In January of this year, Wildlife Warriors sent a team of experts to assist with the devastation resulting from Australia's worst bushfire season on record.
With more than 30 million acres of habitat burnt, the devastation was catastrophic. Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, was one of the hardest hit areas, with more than 25,000 koalas feared to have died.
"Arriving in the affected areas was devastating. The ground was littered with animals that hadn't survived," said Luke Reavley, who led the Wildlife Warriors team on Kangaroo Island. "While it was extremely saddening, there were some truly heartwarming moments, like being able to rescue orphaned joeys that would never have survived without our help."
Australia Zoo and Wildlife Warriors operate a rescue team for sick and injured animals, a free service that transports wildlife in need to the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital. Since opening the hospital, over 95,000 animals have been admitted. "This experience has led to a very unique set of skills that can assist in wildlife emergencies, such as the bushfires," said Luke.
The team were based at the Kangaroo Island Koala and Wildlife Rescue Centre, which took in over 600 koalas during the bushfires. "I'd hate to think of how things would have ended up for these animals without the dedicated team on Kangaroo Island," said Luke. "They literally opened up their homes to hundreds of injured koalas, the lounge room was full of orphaned koala joeys that needed to be fed around the clock."
As the fires were controlled, the team were able to begin releasing koalas no longer needing treatment into safe areas. "Much of the island had been affected by fire, especially the eucalyptus plantations and National Park that the koalas inhabited," Luke shared, "It became evident very quickly that the island's remaining safe habitat wouldn't sustain so many koalas being released, and that most of the orphaned koalas would need to remain in human care."
As Covid-19 hit, and Australia started going into lockdown, the last of the team returned to Australia Zoo with some precious cargo, some of the orphaned koalas that couldn't be released back into the wild.
Kong, Pretzel, Cocoa and Popcorn flew back to Queensland with one of our koala specialists, while the team at Australia Zoo prepared a quarantine area filled with leaf species favoured by the southern-ranging koalas.
"Southern koalas are quite different from their northern counterparts, they are a lot bigger, darker and fluffier to help them cope with the cooler southern winters. They also feed on different species of eucalyptus. Luckily for us, we have extensive plantations that feed the koalas that live at Australia Zoo, and are being treated at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital," said Luke, "In fact, we have one of the largest populations of koalas in the world, so we knew we could provide these koalas a safe and happy life."
Since arriving at Australia Zoo at the end of March, the joeys have almost doubled in weight and have settled in extremely well.
"We're thrilled that we could give these beautiful koalas a second chance," Luke shared.