Koala hospital scrambles to save hundreds injured in bushfires_1

Injured in bushfires that have ravaged the wildlife haven off the coast of South Australia state, there are so many marsupials currently requiring urgent treatment that carers don’t have time to give them names — they are simply referred to by a number.

Among them is Koala No 64, who was brought in with burns to all four of his paws.

Stretched out on a surgical table in a bustling tent, he has been sedated so the wounds can be examined and treated.

“It’s healing nicely,” says veterinarian Peter Hutchison, explaining the koala had already benefitted from a few days’ of treatment.

9 000 out of 46 000 koalas survived

Not all rescued koalas have been so lucky. Many are found so badly injured that they need to be euthanised.

Steven Selwood, South Australia Veterinary Emergency Management team leader at the hospital, said around 46 000 koalas were thought to be on the island before 2020’s bushfires.

It is estimated as few as 9 000 remain, Selwood says, describing the figure as “pretty devastating”.

“The fires here were particularly ferocious and fast-moving so we’re seeing a lot less injured wildlife than in other fires,” he told AFP

“A lot of the wildlife was incinerated.”

Koalas could be listed as ‘endangered’

Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the country’s koala population had taken an “extraordinary hit” as a result of bushfires that have raged for months, suggesting they could be listed as “endangered” for the first time.

Kangaroo Island is the only place in Australia where the population is entirely free of chlamydia — a sexually transmitted infection also found in humans that is fatal to koalas.

That has made them a key “insurance population” for the future of the species — and even more crucial now that large numbers have died in bushfires on the Australian mainland.

80% of koala habitat wiped out

Almost half of Kangaroo Island has been razed by fire and an estimated 80% of koala habitat wiped out.

This widespread destruction has left rescuers with a tricky proposition — what to do with the animals once they have recovered.

For now, that issue is on the back burner as teams of vets work overtime to save as many as possible.

“He’s going to need another week [to recover] and will need to be kept caged after that,” Hutchinson said as he wrapped a pink bandage around No 64’s paw.

“Because there’s no habitat for him to go back to at this time.”

Plea for New Zealand to house koalas

Thousands of people have signed a petition for koalas to be introduced to New Zealand to escape Australia’s devastating bush fires, but the proposal has been given the thumbs down by officials.

A group calling itself the Koala Relocation Society said koalas were “functionally extinct in Australia” but could thrive in New Zealand which has almost 30 000 hectares planted in eucalyptus.

As of midday on Monday 13 January, the online petition had 7 500 signatures, but a spokesperson for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Television New Zealand that the government’s focus was on helping to get the fires under control so koalas “can stay in their natural habitat”.

Wellington Zoo animal science manager Simon Eyre believed any assistance should be provided directly to the Australian authorities dealing with the fallout from the fires.

“For us, it would be assisting in Australia and it wouldn’t only be koalas, it would be other species affected by the fires as well,” he said.

© Agence France-Presse