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          xi's moments
          Home | Asia Pacific

          Volunteers help fire-injured koalas find their way home

          Xinhua | Updated: 2020-02-01 10:13

          A volunteer checks in on an injured koala at Adelaide Koala Rescue. The center in South Australia has been battling to help the vulnerable marsupials caught up in Australia's bushfires. BAI XU/XINHUA

          ADELAIDE, Australia-On a hot summer day, Alice was sitting in a shed enjoying the mist that could cool her down. Although injuries left by the bushfire could still be seen, she is much healthier now.

          The fire victim is not a person. She is a koala.

          Bushfires raging in Australia over the past several months have killed at least 33 people. The World Wildlife Fund Australia estimated that around 1.25 billion animals have been killed across the country.

          But there were lucky ones like Alice, who were rescued and treated.

          Like some other koalas, she was found in the Cudlee Creek where a fire started.

          "We found her three or four weeks ago," said Jane Brister, founder of the Adelaide Koala Rescue. "She was black all over, covered in ash. Even a tip of her ear was burned."

          The Adelaide Koala Rescue in South Australia, with more than 200 volunteers, provides 24-hour koala rescue services covering the Adelaide Hills, all Adelaide metro areas and some regional areas.

          Usually with about 40 koalas in their care, volunteers there suddenly found after the bushfires they have over 120 koalas to attend to.

          Therefore they need more space. They moved to a school, before settling down in another venue on the outskirts of Adelaide in the past weekend.

          "We are waiting to move into a new building," Brister said.

          Busy as they were with the relocation, volunteers tried to make the koalas comfortable.

          They give the koalas trunks and fresh eucalypt leaves in order to create an environment similar to their habitats."They need to be sitting on the branches. And it makes them feel like staying in a tree," said the founder.

          Brister said that in the bushfires the most common injury was burn to their paws. "They (koalas) may have survived the fire by climbing really high up a tree, but when they come down, the tree is still hot, the ground is hot, so they burn their paws when they come down," she said.

          Koalas differ in terms of the severity of their burns."Some have very serious burns which would take longer to heal. Others have a shorter stay," she added.

          Teddy was rescued a couple of weeks ago with burned fur and paws. "Now new fur is growing through and his paws have healed," she said."It just needs a little more time before he can start climbing up trees again."

          The healthier koalas were put into bigger enclosures, while the seriously wounded ones were in the ICU, where they were checked every day.

          "As they are taking medication, they sleep for longer periods," Brister said. So they let them sleep on soft pads. Each one has a medical record, with the results of their blood tests and other examinations, daily observations and treatments they received.

          Volunteers not only received koalas injured in bushfires, but also those hit by vehicles or orphaned at a very young age.

          Hannah was a 12-month old baby koala found before the bushfire."She was found during very hot weather all by herself," Brister recalled. "She was too small to be without her mom. She still needed milk. A fox would probably have gotten her if we hadn't rescued her."

          They searched for four days without finding her mom, before deciding to bring her back.

          Now clutching a plush toy mouse, the baby koala is in good shape.

          Like Teddy, Alice and Hannah, each koala is unique to volunteers with their names. Some names were given by those who found them and called for rescue services so as to get local communities involved, while others were named by volunteers.

          "Sometimes they got names with something to do with where they came from," she said. For example, Hannah was from Balhannah.

          Another koala baby, who was energetic, was named Jackie Chan."At first, he was called Jack," Brister said. But when the boy showed his talent in Kongfu, they changed his name.

          The ultimate goal of the volunteers is to help all those koalas find their home in nature, with the orphans paired with their adoptive moms. "Koalas generally are territorial," Brister said. "Legally they should be released within two kilometers of where they were found. However, for some of the koalas there is nothing left within 2 km. So we need to get permission from the government while looking at other habitats which are similar."

          But not all the koalas were lucky enough to go back home. She noted that some koalas were dead when they found them, while some others were too seriously injured to be saved. So they had to euthanize them.

          Damage to the koala species is another tragedy.

          At the end of last year, Australia's Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said up to 30 percent of the koalas in the New South Wales mid-north coast fires may have been killed.

          Brister said it was hard to give an exact number of the dead koalas, but large areas of their habitats were destroyed. "In an interstate area between Queensland and NSW all the koalas were gone," she said."In the Adelaide Hills massive areas were lost. The koala species in some areas will never recover."

          Although they are emotional when telling the sad stories, people at the rescue center believed their work is meaningful.

          It was Brister's hope that with their help the koala species in some areas could recover.

           

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