The people who tried to help a koala before it died from minor burns in a bushfire may have done more harm than good, a wildlife shelter has revealed.
Many animals have perished in the flames as a result of the bushfires, while others will die of starvation after their habitats were completely decimated.
Experts have said a billion animals have died this bushfire season, and the loss of native wildlife has not only devastated Australia, but the world.
Animalia Wildlife Shelter, in Frankston in Melbourne’s southeast, provides a temporary home for wildlife that needs care – and it has now warned people’s kindness and compassion towards koalas are ultimately killing them.
“With all the Facebook posts about wonderful people caring for wildlife amidst the fire and heat disasters over these past weeks a silent tragedy is happening,” the certified wildlife shelter wrote on Facebook.
“Koala's are DYING because people are trying their best to help but don't understand how a koala actually drinks.”
The shelter explained Arnie, a little koala from a town just north of Bairnsdale, survived the heat and the fires, and minor burns to his hands and feet were healing.
But he later died after he was fed the wrong way.
“When an animal is first offered water they do want to drink it,” Michelle Thomas, one of the co-founders of Animalia Wildlife Shelter, told Yahoo News Australia.
“They want to really want to try and drink it fast, but it’s really important at that point in time that they drink it slowly.”
Ms Thomas said when wildlife carers are offering water to koalas in times of crisis, it is usually out of a 3mm syringe, just to wet their mouth.
“He survived losing his mum and the loss of his home,” the shelter said.
“He was found by some very caring people who did what any human would do when they find a distressed animal, and offered him a drink from their bottle of water.”
The kind people who found the koala, and many people across the country who have been snapped giving water to koalas from bottles, didn’t realise this is actually very dangerous for koalas.
“When a Koala holds it head up and takes in too much water, it can easily get in to their lungs and cause Aspiration Pneumonia, which is usually fatal,” the Facebook said, stating this is what happened to Arnie.
Ms Thomas told Yahoo News Australia just one drop of water on their lungs can “drown them”.
Koalas get most of their water through the gum leaves they feast on, and on the rare occasion they drink water, the koala does so with their face down, lapping up small amounts with their tongue.
How to give koalas water safely
Animalia Wildlife Shelter is urging people who want to help Australia’s famed animals to be aware of how koalas hydrate.
“If you find a Koala in need of help in the heat or in a fire zone, please DO NOT OFFER IT WATER BY TIPPING IT FROM A BOTTLE OR CUP INTO THEIR MOUTHS AND NEVER FORCE A KOALA TO DRINK,” Animalia Wildlife Shelter said.
Instead, place a bowl of water on the ground, or use something that can act as a bowl – like a hat, helmet or cup – so the koala can lap up the water, face down, at a pace which is safe for them.
The shelter also encourages people to take koalas who are injured to their nearest shelter, if it is safe to catch a potentially injured or burnt koala in a blanket.
If a koala is resisting, do not pick it up – despite being cute and cuddly, koalas can cause “nasty injuries”.
If it is not safe to help the koala, take note of the location and pass on the details to shelter.
Animalia Wildlife Shelter is urging people to educate their friends, or people on social media, suggesting if you see a video or photo of someone pouring water in a koala’s mouth online to say something.
“Comment on it saying: ‘PLEASE DO NOT GIVE KOALAS WATER BY POURING IT. JUST LET THEM LAP AT THEIR OWN PACE. IF IT GETS IN THEIR LUNGS IT COULD KILL THEM’.”
Just like humans, bushfires are extremely stressful for koalas.
Animalia Wildlife Shelter is urging people to remember koalas are nocturnal and live in trees, so if you see a koala sitting on the ground during the day, call a wildlife rescue organisation.
“They are usually very stressed if they are at the point of allowing human interaction, so please do not try and take selfies with the animal as you are just causing continued stress,” Animalia Wildlife Shelter said.
Ms Thomas said the whole point of the Facebook post was not to shame anyone, but to raise awareness.
“The most important thing is the message gets out there, just to do it the right way,” she said, adding it isn’t just Animalia Wildlife Shelter trying to raise awareness about this.
Ms Thomas said carers across Victoria have been aware of, and speaking about this for a while now.
It’s not just Animalia Wildlife Shelter making noise about this, with Aussie TV vet Dr Chris Brown posting about the issue on Instagram on Thursday.
“While it might look great on the ‘gram, offering a koala a drink from a bottle isn’t without risks,” Dr Brown wrote to his Instagram.
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