With recent rains breathing new life into their previously fire-ravaged homes, the endangered marsupials were able to return to their natural habitat.
For some much-needed good news: Koalas are finally re-entering the wild. Following months of treatment, the marsupials rescued during Australia’s devastating bushfires are now being released back into their natural habitats. With recent rains breathing new life into their previously fire-ravaged homes, wildlife experts began returning the endangered critters to the wild in recent weeks in the hopes of bringing their population back up. Among the ones released was 4-year-old Anwen, who became a powerful face of the natural disaster when photographs of her bandaged claws went viral at the end of last year.
Speaking to BBC, experts from Taronga Zoo revealed that they'd treated over 100 koalas across two hospitals during the bushfires. "We have been busy assessing the burnt area that we rescued them from, to establish when the conditions have improved enough that the trees can support them again. The recent rains have helped and there is now plenty of new growth for them to eat, so the time is right," said Dr. Kellie Leigh, executive director of conservation group Science for Wildlife.
Experts rescued as many koalas as they could from the fires with the help of previously-installed tracking devices to locate the ones in danger. This same tech will now enable scientists to study how the marsupials adapt when they get back home. "The radio-tracking devices that enabled us to find the koalas quickly and move them from in front of the fire will now allow us to follow them and find out more about how koalas use the landscape after the fire, including where else we might find pockets of surviving koalas," said Dr. Leigh.
While the Sydney-based conservation organization, Science for Wildlife, was the first to release the 12 animals that were in its care, the famous Port Macquarie Koala Hospital followed suit days later. Following a prolonged stay at the hospital, 49 bushfire-ravaged koalas began making their re-entry into the wild last week. The organization's president Sue Ashton described the rehabilitation as "heartwarming," while speaking to local press. "To be able to release so many of our koalas back to their original habitats, even to their original tree in some cases – makes us very happy," she explained. "Anwen was our first-ever female koala to be admitted during the bushfires and her recovery has been extraordinary."
"It marks a proud moment for Australia; to see our Koala population rebuild, starting to recover from what was such a devastating time," Ashton added. Port Macquarie-Hastings Council's group manager economic and cultural development, Liesa Davies, explained that the region has a nationally significant population of 2000 koalas and that bushfires are one of the top dangers to habitat and lives. "The work that the staff and volunteers at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital do is amazing at any time but particularly during the bushfires and since they have worked tirelessly, and we would like to say a huge thanks for this," she said.
"The recent days and weeks have presented new and uncertain challenges. The way we must live our lives is changing, and the spaces, places, and people we love are all experiencing challenging times. Occasions like this give us all reason to hope and look to the future," Davies continued. Although the pandemic stops people from visiting the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital—the only hospital for koalas in the world that's a popular tourist attraction, scientific research and education center, and a wildlife rehabilitation facility—Davies urged people to support the hospital to the best of their abilities.
"Now is not the time to travel, but we can encourage people to plan to lend support by visiting when it is safe to do so, witnessing the wonderful work the koala hospital does and supporting local business recovery," she said.