Losing Furry Mates: Australia's Ongoing Wildfires

Bushfires are common in Australia, with one occurring nearly every year, but the bushfires that have been ongoing since September 2019 are unheard of and concerning. Two million acres have been burned throughout Australia and over one third of the population of koalas, a national symbol of Australia, have been killed in some regions due to the fires. Temperatures have reached over 107 degrees Fahrenheit, but the extent of the damages cannot be accounted for until the fires calm down and the result can be studied further. If Australia without its beloved furry mates is not a wake-up call on the weight that global warming has on our Earth, I’m not sure what is.

CBS news reported that the fires have killed nearly one billion animals nationally, with 800 million of those in the New South Wales area, according to an Ecologist at the University of Sydney. Koalas have been heavily affected by this travesty, along with kangaroos, gliders, potoroos (rat/kangaroo mammal), cockatoos (belongs to the parrot species), and honeyeaters (a small black and yellow Australian bird). The uncontrollable flames have killed twenty-five people, and entire towns have been ordered to evacuate due to their proximity to the fires.  

About one third of the koala population in New South Wales (a southeastern state in Australia) has been killed in the bush fires — that’s 350 out of 700 koalas! Unfortunately, a koala's instinct is to move up to the highest point of a tree in order to escape the fire, but as heat rises, so do the fatalities. Even if there was a major turn of events and a koala was able to escape by going beneath the smoke and flames, they would be seriously injured walking through hot coals on their bare paws.

 A couple living in Taree, a town on the Mid North Coast, have charitably turned their own home into a healing center for koalas in severe conditions. Their welcoming front living room has transitioned into a care space for wounded koalas and has been used to nurse 24 cuddly patients and counting. This couple has run a welfare refuge for koalas since 1993, according to news.com.au. The 24 koalas have fortunately found a temporary home with the McLeods that includes a private space with towels, blankets, and a tree gathered in a laundry basket, marked with their names on a sticky note in the front. In this makeshift doctor's office, they treat wounds by applying cream to burns and cleaning the animals properly to avoid infections — which is the highest threat at this point. After the burning occurs, the koalas need to be treated as soon as possible because infections are the biggest risk to their well-being after being burned.

The McLeods are not optimistic about the future for koalas. “We do this and hope we can save some of them,” Ms. McLeod told ABC News. The rapid pace of the fires pushes the koalas closer and closer to the edge of extinction. 

“We have a number of koalas in care. And it’s a scary scenario but that may well be the one insurance policy koalas have for the area here” said Mr. McLeod. The McLeods do this as an effort to support mother nature, as they understand the Australian government is not doing as much as they hoped.

Although there is no going back in time for one of Australia’s beloved animals as they get closer and closer to the edge of extinction, there are many teams that have individuals working around the clock to do what they can with what they have control over. Some of these include the WORLD Wildfire Foundation Australia (https://www.worldwildlife.org/) and Koala Conservation (https://www.koalahospital.org.au/act-now). You can do your part from across the world by donating to those trying to save these populations.


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