'Absolute tragedy': Koala numbers decimated after bushfires destroy key habitats

Bushfires have decimated a key koala colony in NSW, delivering what rescuers are calling an “absolute tragedy” for the species.

As of Monday morning, more than 100 fires were burning across Queensland and NSW, with dangerous conditions inside many fire zones preventing volunteers from accessing injured wildlife.

In the Port Macquarie region on the NSW Mid North Coast, there are fears upwards of 350 koalas were killed at the Lake Innes Nature Reserve last week.

With only between 50,000 to 100,000 koalas left in the wild, this is a significant loss.

Larger fires, stoked by extreme weather as people call for action on climate change, are causing more intense fires that reach high into the trees.

Claire Smith, founder of Wildlife Rescue Sunshine Coast said that smaller fires kill slower moving animals like echidnas, but many large fires in NSW are entering the tree canopy.

“In NSW, the fire storms ripped through and they burnt everything,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

A koala carer feeds a in inured koala with a syringe. It sits inside a laundry basket with leaves.
A koala rescued from Lake Innes Nature Reserve, receives formula at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. Source: Reuters
The sun shines through a thick cloud of smoke. The sky has turned red.
Skies across NSW have turned red as the northern part of the state continues to burn. Source: AAP

“So koalas caught up in trees had no chance of survival unfortunately.

“The loss of that volume of animals is going to dramatically affect the genetic diversity of the species over the next 20 years.

Wildlife Rescue Sunshine Coast, is fundraising to actively support other organisations across the country that are working with animals impacted by the bushfires.

The rescue group has so far raised more than $60,000 of their $100,000 goal, and has already begun distributing funds to help rescue groups including Koalas in Care at Taree and Queensland Koala Crusaders.

Close up of a koala in a basket being fed with a syringe.
Key habitat for this injured koala has been destroyed by bushfires. Source: Reuters

Eucalypt forests to take years to grow back

Ms Smith notes that the loss of habitat will greatly affect the future of surviving animals.

“It takes a long time for the eucalypts to grow back,” she said.

“It’s an ongoing tragedy that will be felt for many, many years.

“This fundraising is designed to help now and into the future, and we’re handing it out as quickly as we can based on where the need is.”

Ms Smith says funds will also be sent to Koala Hospital Port Macquarie where they are currently nursing a small surviving group of koalas.

The hospital’s team leader Amanda Gordon told Reuters on Friday that many of the poor creatures look “terrible”.

“Some of them are in a lot of pain,” she said.

“The ones that we are really hopeful for, of course, are the ones that are taking food, and formula, and eating their leaf."

The hospital has thanked the public for their support on their Facebook page, urging people to stick by them.

“We will have months of bushfire work in front of us,” it reads.

“Pray for lots of good soaking rain right across this state.”

Readers wishing to support Wildlife Rescue Sunshine Coast can do so here and Koala Hospital Port Macquarie is accepting funds via their homepage.

With Reuters.

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

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