Warning over 'potentially deadly' Instagram trend amid bushfires

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While it’s become common on social media to see photos of koalas desperately guzzling down water handed to them from humans, this seemingly kind act could actually harm the Australian native.

If a “stressed or weakened” animal consumes a forceful gush of water, it could end up in its lungs and cause potentially deadly pneumonia, according to TV vet Dr Chris Brown.

“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 on Thursday.

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Koalas desperately drinking from water bottles has become one of the more enduring and heartfelt symbols of Australia’s catastrophic bushfire season. But a lot of you have been asking why they do something that’s seemingly so foreign? After all, human contact is normally a huge source of stress for koalas. So here’s your answer... . Obviously, a desperate thirst is a massive part of it. The worst drought in living memory in many parts of Australia has meant an animal that historically hasn’t needed to drink, can now no longer extract enough water from eucalyptus leaves to survive. Almost all wild koalas are currently in a permanent state of extreme dehydration making the further stress and heat of a bushfire often too much to bear. That acute stress of a fire tends to stun them into a state of helplessness where, instead of running away, they submit to their fate in shocked silence. But a unique instinct is also playing a part. Being climbers, koalas will grab at anything put in front of them as a security response. If that happens to be a water bottle then they’re in luck. This ‘snatch and grab’ response also plays into another koala gift. Their sense of smell. By pulling an object closer, they’re able to fully assess what’s inside with their oversized nose with incredible accuracy. That assessment can take place in a few milliseconds meaning once water is detected, it triggers the desire to drink it down. But one final word of warning. While it might look great on the ‘gram, offering a koala a drink from a bottle isn’t without risks. If water is forced down the throat of a stressed or weakened koala, it can easily end up in their lungs, causing a potentially deadly pneumonia. Firefighter Ali actually shows perfect technique here allowing the koala to drink at his own pace. The safest bet is actually to pour water into a bowl (if available) and let them drink the water from there... If you’d like to donate to help all wildlife affected by bushfires, maybe consider @wildlifevictoria. WIRES (a NSW organisation) have thankfully been flooded with donations while some others have been comparatively left behind. 📷: @sa_metropolitan_fire_service

A post shared by Chris Brown (@drchrisbrown) on

“If water is forced down the throat of a stressed or weakened koala, it can easily end up in their lungs, causing a potentially deadly pneumonia.”

Dr Brown explained the dire environmental conditions and savage bushfires had left koalas relying on their survival instincts so much so that their usual fear of human contact had been eradicated.

“The worst drought in living memory in many parts of Australia has meant an animal that historically hasn’t needed to drink, can now no longer extract enough water from eucalyptus leaves to survive,” he said.

TV vet Dr Chris Brown holding koala as he issues warning about giving them water during the bushfire crisis.
Dr Chris Brown urged people not to force water down the throat of dehydrated koalas. Source: Instagram/drchrisbrown

“Almost all wild koalas are currently in a permanent state of extreme dehydration making the further stress and heat of a bushfire often too much to bear.

“That acute stress of a fire tends to stun them into a state of helplessness where, instead of running away, they submit to their fate in shocked silence.”

He said koalas were also now grabbing onto anything in front of them as a security measure, and had made good use of their “snatch and grab” response to detect water.

“By pulling an object closer, they’re able to fully assess what’s inside with their oversized nose with incredible accuracy. That assessment can take place in a few milliseconds meaning once water is detected, it triggers the desire to drink it down,” Dr Brown wrote.

He shared an image of a South Australian firefighter named Ali displaying “perfect technique” and allowing a koala to drink from a water bottle at its own pace.

“The safest bet is actually to pour water into a bowl (if available) and let them drink the water from there,” he added.

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