Koalas Return to the Blue Mountains!

Science for Wildlife are pleased to announce that all of our koalas, saved from the recent bushfires, have been returned to their home in the Blue Mountains of Australia. We rescued these marsupials, who are representatives of the most genetically diverse population of koalas in Australia, from the devastating mega-fire that moved through the area in December 2019. They were sheltered in safety and cared for by the amazing staff at Taronga Zoo, with a team effort between Taronga and Science for Wildlife in keeping them fed. On Monday 23rd and Wednesday 25th March, they were reintroduced back into the eucalyptus forests by our team, with the support of San Diego Zoo Global.

“While they have coped well in care, we are delighted to finally send our koalas home. 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. We will be radio-tracking them and keeping a close eye on them to make sure that they settle in ok.”

– Dr Kellie Leigh, Executive Director of Science for Wildlife

Featured above: Australia’s Koalas Are Finally Being Released Back Into The Wild | Mashable

Our Genetically diverse Koala Population

The Greater Blue Mountains area is a mountainous region located in New South Wales in Australia, which supports koalas that seem to break all of the rules. The region was listed as a World Heritage Area by UNESCO in 2000 largely due to an outstanding diversity of eucalypt species (over 100 species), giving koalas more choice of habitats and food trees than anywhere else in Australia. We have been running our Blue Mountains Koala Project in this region for 5 years and through collaborative research we discovered that the Blue Mountains World Heritage Region is home to the most genetically diverse population of koalas in the world. The population in Kanangra-Boyd is also free of chlamydia, which is sadly a rare thing. Science for Wildlife, along with San Diego Zoo Global, is committing resources to help ensure that the population is recovered.

“During the massive fires, as 80% of the World Heritage Area burnt, we were at risk of losing the entire koala population at this site and so that’s what drove us to try something so radical and pull these koalas out before the fire hit.”

– Dr Kellie Leigh, Executive Director of Science for Wildlife

Thank you to San Diego Zoo Global

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. A leader in global conservation, San Diego Zoo Global has been a core partner for our Blue Mountains Koala Project since it started and have been raising funds to support the rescue and other emergency wildlife work that Kellie and her team have been undertaking during the bushfires.

Some of the core funding provided by San Diego Zoo Global over the years has been used for ecological studies and to find, capture and radio-track koalas at our different study sites – those tracking devices are what enabled us to go in and find the koalas and move them out before the approaching fire. The same devices, along with more support from San Diego Zoo, will now allow us to monitor them and ensure they settle in ok.

“Successful conservation work to save species requires working collaboratively in regions all over the world, supporting partners in a variety of ways. This is a crucial time for Australian wildlife and we are proud that our long-standing relationship made it possible for us to save these koalas.”

– Paul Baribault, President and CEO of San Diego Zoo Global

The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible with support from their incredible donors, committed to saving species from the brink of extinction.

Featured above: Koalas being released back into their natural habitat in the Blue Mountains (Image: Ian Brown)

Thank you to Taronga Zoo

Science for Wildlife are incredibly grateful for Taronga’s assistance and expertise in providing a safe haven for these rescued koalas during the bushfire crisis. Taronga keepers and vets have worked hard to make sure the koalas coped as well as possible during their stay in captivity and we were relieved to know they were in good hands.

“Due to the extensive experience and expertise of our keepers and veterinary staff, Taronga is best placed to assist in emergency situations when animals, like these 12 koalas, need emergency housing and care. We were so pleased to be able to assist Science 4 Wildlife on their mission to save these incredibly valuable koalas.”

– Nick Boyle, Taronga’s Director of Welfare, Conservation and Science

Taronga Staff

Featured above: Koalas being prepared for release at Taronga Zoo (Image: KDVideo)

Thank you to our Science for Wildlife Volunteers

Science for Wildlife volunteers have been amazing throughout this whole process. Working with our research team, they helped with the rescue including radio-tracking and locating the koalas, transporting them to Taronga Zoo, and then over 3 months ensuring an ongoing supply of local food to them (browse), collected every week from Kanangra-Boyd which is a 5hr return drive. They also assisted with the logistics of the release process and with monitoring the koalas. To everyone who has helped, a heartfelt thank you, this whole process has been a huge team effort.


Featured above: The Science for wildlife team celebrates after the final koala is released, as 20mm of rain falls on them! (Image: KDVideo)

What’s next for our Koalas?

The reintroduction of these koalas back to their natural habitat is just the next stage in what conservationists know will be a long-term effort to recover koala populations in the area.

“There is still a lot of work to be done to assess what is left of koalas in this region and plan for population recovery. We are dedicated to continuing to support this critical work to conserve a significant koala population.”

– Paul Baribault, President and CEO of San Diego Zoo Global

The radio-tracking devices fitted to the koalas will ensure that the Science for Wildlife team can monitor their welfare, and also learn more about how koalas use the landscape after fire. This should tell us where else we might find pockets of surviving koalas. Finally, the technology will help the Science for Wildlife team plan a future for koalas under climate change, where more frequent and intense fires are expected.

To learn more about the Blue Mountains Koala Project, visit our project page here.

For projects updates and to learn more about Science for Wildlife community, visit our projects page here.