Against all odds, koalas ravaged by Australia’s unprecedented wildfire season are finally going home.
49 bushfire-ravaged koalas have been tirelessly treated and rehabilitated by staff at the Koala Hospital Port Macquarie, who started successfully releasing them back into the wild (some to their original trees). As these heart-melting pics show, this was an incredibly emotional moment for the vets, volunteers, and the koalas.
In New South Wales, the record-breaking wildfires destroyed more than 30 percent of koala habitat and killed about 2,000 koalas. With recent rains, however, their habitat is recovering beautifully and there is plenty of food and water, the wildlife rehabilitation facility revealed.
The 2019-2020 bushfire season set the Australian continent ablaze, wiping out over one-fifth of its forests and killing an estimated 1 billion animals. The flames were so intense that astronauts aboard the International Space Station could see them from space while smoke made a “full circuit” around the planet.
“The only way to describe these bushfires is hell on Earth. Armageddon. It has been horrific, terrifying and so heartbreaking. From October 2019 through to January 2020, it felt like the whole country was on fire with every news media outlet showing,” the Koala Hospital wrote.
Koalas mostly get their daily water needs by eating eucalyptus leaves. The year 2019, however, turned out to be the hottest and driest year in Australian history, and the drought killed the life-giving trees. In search of water, the koalas were forced to the ground, which put them at a greater risk of being burned.
In the hospital, the koalas the team rescued were put on a strict treatment schedule. For a day, the animals were only given fluids, as well as necessary nutrition and pain relief. Once rehydrated, the animals were placed under a general anesthetic and vets treated treated and bandaged the burns. The majority of their injuries were not caused by direct flames but were radiant burns caused by the heat, like when you open an oven door, IFLScience reports.
Unfortunately, not all treated koalas survived and a few had to be euthanized due to the extent of their burns, including Ellenborough Lewis, the koala made famous by a viral video showing a woman rescuing him from the flames with the literal shirt off of her back.
According to WWF Australia, if current trends countinue koalas could face extinction in New South Wales as early as 2050 based on current trends and expert knowledge, without a significant reduction in tree clearing, mitigation of climate change and major expansion of protected areas.