Mia Armitage & Aslan Shand
Koala hospitals in Currumbin, Port Macquarie, and the Australia Zoo are reportedly full as wildlife rescuers do their best to save the endangered species from fire-affected areas.
Koala Conservation Australia said as many as 350 koalas were estimated to have died in the fires at the Lake Innes Nature Reserve while volunteers over the weekend managed to rescue 16 koalas from fire-hit areas around Port Macquarie.
James Tremain from the NSW Nature Conservation Council told media that Port Macquarie recently had one of the healthiest koala populations in the state with up to 600 animals in the colony there.
In the Clarence and Richmond catchments over the past two months ‘massive wildlifes have devastated almost 300,000 hectares of native vegetation,’ said Dailan Pugh from North East Forest Alliance (NEFA).
‘This has entailed the burning of over 180,000 hectares of public lands, including known important koala colonies.’
Mr Tremain said if things continued at the current rate, koalas would be extinct by 2050.
Mr Tremain referred to existing pressure on koala populations including habitat destruction from farming and housing expansion as well as current bushfires.
Further north, Friends of the Koala President Ros Irwin said rescuers had already been busy saving koalas hit by cars or attacked by dogs as this was the peak season for koalas to be on the move.
Ms Irwin said in a media release Monday morning Friends of the Koala had been unprepared for bushfires but that was changing.
She said members were working with a wide range of people including the RFS, National Parks & Wildlife, Forestry, and other local wildlife organisations to acquire fire-awareness training in order to rescue koalas on firegrounds.
Calls on premier for koala protection
Some people had been taking in water and branches of eucalypts for koalas but Ms Irwin advised against such actions until the RFS has given the all-clear.
‘We know that many people understandably are really wanting to do something for wildlife – as are we – but given the catastrophic fires that have burnt out nearly 150,000 hectares of forests, National Parks, and bush in our area, even before the recent fires in the Lismore LGA, in our opinion it is too dangerous now to go onto any of the firegrounds,’ Ms Irwin said.
The koala advocate said providing water was important but placing branches on the ground wasn’t particularly helpful as koalas didn’t eat on the ground and were so selective as to which individual leaf they chose.
$1m for wildlife rehabilitation
While the NSW Environment minister Matt Kean announced $1m for NSW wildlife rehabilitators on 2 November Mr Pugh points out that groups like Friends of the Koala receive no permanent government funding.
‘What the burning of extensive koala colonies in the massive Busbys Flat and Bees Nest fires demonstrate is a need for a wildfire emergency response from government, particularly for public lands, to immediately go into affected colonies to identify sick koalas requiring rescue, and provide assistance for the survivors to help them live on country until trees get a flush of new growth.
‘The NSW government should not shirk its responsibilities, or try to palm them off to volunteer groups,’ he told The Echo. ‘They need their own emergency wildfire response team to go into fire grounds immediately after fires and assess the recovery needs of all important populations of threatened species, including threatened plants, and implement recovery actions.’