Injured in bushfires, Australian koalas rest and heal at a temporary home

Source:Xinhua Published: 2020/1/30 13:38:20

Koalas rest at an enclosure of Australia's Adelaide Koala Rescue center, Jan. 28, 2020. (Xinhua/Lyu Wei)

Alice was sitting in a shed while enjoying the mist that could cool her down in Australia's hot summer. You could still see her injuries left by the bushfire that has killed at least 33 people, but Alice is much healthier now.

Only that the fire victim sitting there is not a woman -- she is a koala.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia estimated that around 1.25 billion animals have been killed across the country. But there are lucky ones like Alice, who were rescued and treated by the Adelaide Koala Rescue in South Australia.

Like some other koalas, she was found in the Cudlee Creek where a fire started.

"We found her three or four weeks ago," said Jane Brister, founder of the Adelaide Koala Rescue. "She was black all over, covered in ash. Even a tip of her ear was burned."

The Adelaide Koala Rescue, with more than 200 volunteers, provides 24-hour koala rescue services covering the Adelaide Hills, all Adelaide metro areas and some regional areas.

Usually with about 40 koalas in their care, volunteers suddenly found over 120 koalas to attend to after the bushfires.

They need more space. Before settling down in another venue on the outskirts of Adelaide in the past weekend, they moved to a school.

"We are waiting to move into a new building," Brister said.

This photo shows founder of Adelaide Koala Rescue Jane Brister holding a Koala joey orphan. (Xinhua/Lyu Wei)

Busy as they were with the relocation, volunteers tried to make the koalas comfortable. They give the koalas trunks and fresh eucalypt leaves in order to create an environment similar to their habitats.

"They need to be sitting on the branches. And it makes them feel like staying in a tree," said the founder.

Brister said that in the bushfires the most common injury was burn to their paws. "They (koalas) may have survived the fire by climbing really high up a tree, but when they come down, the tree is still hot, the ground is hot, so they burn their paws when they come down," she said.

The severity of their burns differs. "Some have very serious burns which would take longer to heal. Others have a shorter stay," she added.

Teddy was rescued a couple of weeks ago with burned fur and paws. "Now new fur is growing through and his paws have healed," she said. "It just needs a little more time before he can start climbing up trees again."

The healthier koalas were put into bigger enclosures, while the seriously wounded ones were in the ICU, where they were examined every day.

"Because they are taking medication, they sleep for longer periods," Brister said. So they let them sleep on soft pads. Each one has a medical record about their blood tests, daily observations and treatments they received.

Photo taken on Jan. 28, 2020 in Adelaide Koala Rescue center shows volunteers feeding a koala in the ICU. (Xinhua/Bai Xu)

Volunteers not only received koalas injured in bushfires, but also those hit by vehicles or orphaned at a very young age.

Hannah was a 12-month old baby koala found before the bushfire. "She was found during very hot weather all by herself," Brister recalled. "She was too small to be without her mom. She still needed milk. A fox would probably have gotten her if we hadn't rescued her."

They searched for four days without finding the whereabouts of her mom, before deciding to bring her back.

Now clutching a plush toy mouse, the baby koala was in good shape.

Like Teddy, Alice and Hannah, each koala was unique to volunteers with different names. Some names were given by those who found them and called for rescue services so as to get local communities involved, while others were named by volunteers.

"Sometimes they got names with something to do with where they came from," she said. For example, Hannah was from Balhannah.

Another koala baby, who was energetic, was named Jackie Chan. "At first, he was called Jack," Brister grinned. But when the boy showed his talent in Kongfu, they changed his name.

Photo taken on Jan. 28, 2020 in Adelaide Koala Rescue center shows a koala resting in an enclosure. (Xinhua/Lyu Wei)

The ultimate goal of the volunteers is to help all those koalas find their home in nature, with the orphans paired with their adoptive moms. "Koalas generally are territorial," Brister said.

"Legally they should be released within 2 km of where they were found. However, for some of the koalas there is nothing left within 2 km. So we need to get permission from the government while looking at other habitats which are similar."

But not all the koalas were lucky enough to go back home. She noted that some koalas were dead when they found them, while some others were too seriously injured to be saved. So they had to euthanize them.

At the end of last year, Australia's Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said up to 30 percent of the koalas were killed in the New South Wales (NSW) mid-north coast fires.

Brister said it was hard to give an exact number of the deceased, but large areas of their habitats were destroyed. "In an interstate area between Queensland and NSW, all the koalas were gone," she said.

"The koala species in some areas will never recover," she added.

It was Brister's hope that with their help, the koalas in some areas could recover and find their way home.


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