Crafting for critters: Australian fires prompt global effort

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This Jan. 8, 2020 photo provided by Jackie Maisey shows Grey-headed Flying Fox bats prepared for a feeding at the Uralla, Australia, home of Maisey, a volunteer with Northern Tableands Wildlife Carers. The bats are swaddled in flannel wraps similar to those being made by thousands of crafters worldwide who are using their sewing, knitting and crocheting skills to make items for wildlife injured in the Australian brush fires. Some animal rescue groups, however, say monetary donations are needed more. (Jackie Maisey via AP)

CONCORD, NH – Kyla Gill had never so much as touched a sewing machine or picked up a crochet hook two weeks ago. Now, she’s hooked on crafting for critters 10,000 miles (16,000 km) away, to the point of temporarily putting aside her floor refinishing business in Pittsburgh.

“I do hard labor, so I’m rough with my hands. Sewing, knitting — that’s just completely out of my realm," she said. “But to go to work the next day knowing that there are animals and people suffering? I just pretty much wiped my schedule clean and put my projects on hold.”

Hoping to help wildlife harmed in the Australian wildfires, thousands of crafters worldwide are churning out swaddling wraps for bats, hanging enclosures for kangaroos, and cozy pouches for wallabies and other animals.

But confusion abounds about whether the items actually are needed or will be used.

The Animal Rescue Craft Guild, based in Australia, and associated groups have told their members to pause work while they take stock of donated items. And some wildlife organizations say what they need most is money, not handmade goods. Monetary donations can help pay for enclosures and cages, medical supplies, specialized animal feed and other critical items as needs evolve over time, said Megan Davidson, CEO of Wildlife Victoria.

"While we have been overwhelmed by the kindness of people wanting to donate items for wildlife, physical donations of clothes, knitted items and food are very difficult for relief agencies to sort through, distribute and store — especially during peak periods like the bushfire crisis we're experiencing at the moment,” she said in an email.

"It is so lovely that people care and want to help. The most practical way to help native animals in Victoria right now is by a direct donation to Wildlife Victoria.”

The unprecedentedly fierce fires in southeast Australia have claimed the lives of at least 28 people since September, destroyed more than 2,600 homes and razed more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres), mostly in New South Wales state. The area burned is larger than the U.S. state of Indiana.