When Kerikeri woman Bridget King heard about the Australian bush fire disaster, she knew she couldn't just sit at home without helping animals and people suffering across the Tasman.
Together with a team of 10 Kiwis from the Animal Evac NZ organisation, King flew over in early January to rescue and assist animals in evacuation zones.
King used to work as an animal welfare inspector with experience in frontline animal rescue and said all members of the team were trained in animal welfare.
She said her experience in animal first aid, emergency euthanasia, and animal welfare engagement were useful tools for her deployment to Australia.
"The landscape is severely devastated with little signs of life, and the country is still burning," King said.
"We went to help out communities in the Blue Mountains, Bundanoon and Batemans Bay.
"With the team we handed out over 100 pet carriers for animal owners so they could evacuate their pets.
"A lot of people, especially older people, don't want to leave their houses because they don't leave behind their pets. We were trying to empower the community so they can help their own animals."
While the Animal Evac team carried out pre-evacuation work in different communities, King and the other volunteers also went into the charred bush to look for surviving animals.
"We went on search and rescue missions to capture injured animals and bring them to the team vet. We mostly found kangaroos and echidna. Burns, starvations and dehydration are mostly affecting those animals."
She said the team had to be evacuated once during their two-week trip as bush fires came too close to the town they were staying at, and it helped her understand the anxiety Australians are experiencing.
Accommodation wasn't easy to find for the volunteers with many homes burnt to the ground.
Animal Evac deputy chairman Mark Anderson described how pink fire retardant was splattered over most homes and melted wheelie bins sat in driveways while kangaroos were grazing on the roadside and cockatoos were fighting noisily over new trees.
Animals and humans alike had lost their homes.
Anderson said Animal Evac was New Zealand's only dedicated animal disaster management charity and was founded in 2018.
• Australia bush fires: Number of animals killed tops 1 billion
• Red Cross director admits $11m from Australia bush fire donations won't go to victims
• Amid a deadly and devastating bushfire season, experts warn Australia should get used to it
• Australian bush fire crisis: Conditions 'may not be survivable'
Throughought their stay, the team visited several vet clinics, animal hospitals and recovery centres where they distributed goods and information.
"People would come up to us with tears in their eyes, expressing how grateful they were. They were surprised we had taken the time to come over from New Zealand to help. We told them everyone in New Zealand was thinking about them and helping in any way they can," King said.
By the end of their two-week deployment, the AEVAC team spirits began to lift as they noticed small green buds emerging from the scorched earth – nature was bouncing back.
Upon landing back home, the Air New Zealand flight stewards announced to the plane how the volunteers had been helping animals of Australia, and everyone started clapping and cheering which made the team proud.