Koalas injured by Australia’s unprecedented wildfire season are finally going home.
Caretakers at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, Australia have successfully released at least 49 koalas back into the wild, some of which have even been returned to their original trees after months of being “tirelessly treated and rehabilitated” by those at the wildlife rehabilitation facility.
“This was an incredibly emotional moment for the vets, volunteers, and koalas,” the Greater Port Macquarie Facebook page wrote in a recent post. “Their habitat is recovering beautifully with the recent rain and there is plenty of food and water. What a journey! Oh, the stories they will tell their furry friends!”
A video follows the journey of Anwen, the first female koala to have been admitted during the bushfires last October. It took her five months to recover from burns and Chlamydia infection, according to the hospital. She was “joyfully” released back to her original habitat in the Lake Innes Nature Reserve.
Fires that quickly tore through much of the continent during the 2019-2020 bushfire season destroyed over one-fifth of the nation’s forests, killing an estimated 1 billion animals. The flames were so intense that researchers aboard the International Space Station could see them from space while smoke made a “full circuit” around the planet.
“The only way to describe these bushfires is hell on Earth. Armageddon. It has been horrific, terrifying and so heartbreaking. From October 2019 through to January 2020, it felt like the whole country was on fire with every news media outlet showing,” writes the organization in its quarterly publication Gum Tips.
In New South Wales, more than 30 percent of koala habitat was wiped out in the bushfires and about 2,000 koalas died as a result. Koalas obtain most of their daily water needs by eating eucalypt leaves. But 2019 was deemed the hottest and driest year in Australian history, and as drought wiped out the life-giving trees, the koalas were forced to the ground in search of water, putting them at a greater risk of being burned.
Rescued koalas were on a strict treatment schedule. For the first 24 hours in the hospital, the marsupials were only given fluids, as well as necessary nutrition and pain relief. Once hydrated, the animals were placed under a general anesthetic and burns were treated and bandaged. A majority of the injuries were not caused by direct flames but were a result of radiant burns caused by the heat, like when you open an oven door.
Not all treated koalas survived and a few were euthanized due to the extent of their burns, including Ellenborough Lewis, the koala made famous when a viral video showed a woman saving him from the flames with the literal shirt off of her back.
In addition to koalas, the hospital also treated kangaroos, possums, and turtles.