'No fight left': Devastating photos show tick-ridden koala's excruciating last moments

Shocking photos of a koala losing her life to a cluster of ticks is just the tip of a much wider issue affecting wildlife.

As drought kills the remaining trees in Goondiwindi, Queensland, koalas are being forced down from the trees. As they attempt to adapt to their changing environment, they are becoming increasingly desperate as life on the roadside is perilous.

Tennille Bankes from the Wildlife Empire sanctuary told Yahoo News Australia that until the drought hit, she ordinarily wouldn’t see many koalas. Now, she’s getting in about one a week.

Due to their emaciated condition, only one in five tend to survive.

A close up of a koala on a yellow blanket. There are large ticks on its ears.
This koala had come down from the trees in search of water, but found other dangers on the ground. Source: Wildlife Empire
A hand directs a koala's ear to camera so the cluster of large ticks can be seen. It's lying on a yellow blanket.
This emaciated koala only survived two hours after coming into care covered in ticks. Source: Wildlife Empire

“I mean the fires are having a huge impact, but people don’t realise the impact this drought is having,” Ms Banks said. “It’s been going on for years.

“Ordinarily koalas get all the nourishment they need from the eucalyptus leaves, but because everything is so dry now, they’re actually coming down from the trees extremely malnourished.”

The koala that came in covered in ticks on Christmas Eve only lived for two hours in care.

While many Australian animals have previously been immune to bush ticks, carers are regularly seeing koalas, kangaroos and wallabies becoming overrun with them.

By the time the animals come into care, it’s often too late to save them.

They have already experienced a slow decline, as their bodies waste away from a lack of nutrition, dehydration and habitat loss.

The ticks are the final nail in their coffin, draining away their blood and injecting them with toxins.

Split screen. The back of a koala lying on an orange blanket. A pile of ticks that have been removed from the koala.
Large engorged ticks were draining the life from this emaciated koala. Source: Wildlife Empire

Another koala that came in the week before survived the night, but he wasn’t strong enough to pull through.

“There’s no fight left in them,” Ms Bankes said.

“There was one the week before that had got itself caught in a dam.

“It had gone down to get some water at a cattle farming property and it had gotten itself caught.

“We don’t know long he was there for but a farmer found him and pulled him out and by the time we got him… yeah, he passed away the next day.

Split screen. A muddy sick koala in a washing basket is held up. The back of a koala is a washing basket.
This koala was caught in a muddy dam on December 17. Source: Wildlife Empire
Ms Bankes believes drought is affecting wildlife as much as fires. Source: Michael Dahlstrom / Yahoo News Australia
Ms Bankes believes drought is affecting wildlife as much as fires. Source: Michael Dahlstrom / Yahoo News Australia

Not only is Ms Bankes looking after koalas, the recent heatwave in NSW has seen thousands of grey-headed flying foxes abandon their young, and she’s taken 20 into care.

Estimates suggest ten per cent of Australia’s entire population of flying foxes died this month.

She’s never seen conditions so bad for wildlife.

“This is just… it’s crazy, it’s critical, it’s breaking point really,” she said.

“Most days I end up in tears.

“What I do is just keep reminding myself of the difference we have made and what has been released and just keep going.”

People wishing to donate to Wildlife Empire can do so here.

The author, Michael Dahlstrom, is a registered native bird carer in NSW.

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