With southern Australia experiencing the worst bushfires on record, the area’s already-endangered koala population has faced tough, unforeseen challenges. Recent reports state that the beloved marsupials are some of more than 1 billion animals that are estimated to die due to the blazes, while half of the 50,000 disease free koalas kept separate on Kangaroo Island as insurance for the future of the species are also feared dead. There are ways that that the public can help however, in the form of donations and support.
Fires have broken out across the entire country, with New South Wales and parts of Victoria being amongst the worst affected areas. According to Australian Koala Foundation’s Deborah Tabart, thousands of koalas have died so far in the blazes, with the animals losing over 80% of their natural habitat in the bush. Tabart has expressed great concern in the remaining numbers of the koalas, while Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help fund automatic drinking stations for the animals.
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According to the hospital, staff, along with National Parks and Wildlife Service crew leaders have been searching for the animals in the Port Macquarie area, and to date, more than 31 koalas have been brought to the hospital from fire grounds. The koalas have been rehydrated, examined for burns and treated with cream and been bandaged, with the dressings being changed every three days.
The hospital is also purchasing a water carrying vehicle with fire-fighting capabilities to replenish drinking stations. It initially set a goal of $25,000, with the campaign reaching an astonishing $4.1 million. Now, the organisation has said that it is working to establish a wild koala breeding programme with the money raised.
“Some of the funds raised through [GoFundMe] will be directed to building a ‘Koala Ark’, a facility to allow the surviving koalas to be accommodated in a healthy habitat area. Hopefully, these koalas will breed and a new population of koalas will be established for return to the wild,” the hospital’s campaign page says. More information on the initiative is available at the fundraising page.
Other animals that have been devastated by the fires include birds, reptiles and other mammals, while more than 20 people have died. The World Wildlife Fund Australia released a statement estimating that "around 1.25 billion animals may have been killed directly or indirectly from fires that have burnt 8.4 million hectares across Australia". Some species "may have tipped over the brink of extinction", but the full extent of the devastation will not be known until the fires are over.
Further ways to help:
Donations are being collected for WIRES, the Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service that are working to provide rescue, water, shelter and care for animals. The public can also support the World Wildlife Fund Australia and RSPCA NSW.
Communities and people can also be helped with donations to Red Cross and Salvation Army, as well as GIVIT.
The NSW Rural Fire Service has set up a page where members of the public can support the families of the fire fighters that have died battling the flames.
This article was updated on 8 January 2020.