Rescuers are asking for help as they rush to save any surviving animals
Devastating wildfires ravaged an Australian island on Friday in the midst of the country’s months-long drought and fire crisis, with many fearing that the new blaze wiped out half of the koala population seeking refuge there.
Rescuers are frantically looking to find any surviving animals on Kangaroo Island after wildfires burned through nearly one-third of the island, The Straits Times reported.
“Over 50 per cent (of the population) has been lost,” Sam Mitchell, co-owner of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, told AFP of the koala population, according to the Times. “Injuries are extreme. Others have been left with no habitat to go back to, so starvation will be an issue in coming weeks.”
Kangaroo Island is a popular tourist attraction with protected nature reserves off the coast of South Australia, and was estimated to have a population of about 50,000 koalas before the fires.
In July, a group of researchers at the University of Adelaide found that this specific population was extremely important to the survival of the wider population of koalas in the country, as they were the only group free from chlamydia, according to the Times.
“They are an insurance population for the whole population,” the University of Adelaide’s PhD candidate Jessica Fabijan, told the outlet, explaining that the bacterial infection is widespread in groups of the species in eastern parts of Australia. Chlamydia can cause blindness, infertility and even death in koalas.
The dire situation has the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park seeking help in their relief efforts as they bring in countless injured koalas and animals who have barely survived the fires. The organization has set up a GoFundMe page asking for donations.
“Over the past few days we have started to see a large number of injured koalas, along with other native species heavily impacted by this event,” the page reads. “We have been treating these victims as best we can to supply pain relief, antibiotics, treatment to wounds and basic husbandry requirements. We spent most of January 3rd building extra holding enclosures as well as defending the park from the immediate threat of the fire. We will continue to prepare more infrastructure to house the extra wildlife we expect to see over the coming weeks.”
“We are working around the clock with a highly experienced, qualified and dedicated team of volunteers including qualified vets, vet nurses and wildlife carers to rescue, rehabilitate and care for all of the animals coming in from the bushfires,” it added.
As of Monday, the page has raised $571,116 — well over their $15,000 goal. All proceeds are said to go towards “veterinary costs, koala milk and supplements, extra holding/rehabilitation enclosures, as well as setting up a building to hold supplies to treat these animals.”
Just last week, experts announced that an estimated half-billion animals in Australia have died from the wildfires, including 8,000 koalas. Koalas have reportedly been hit the hardest due to their slow-moving nature and the fact they only eat eucalyptus tree leaves, which come from oily, highly flammable plants.