Koalas Saved Ahead of Bushfire in the Blue Mountains

Devastating wildlife losses, caused by unprecedented bushfire conditions, have lead us to take some unprecedented actions. Over the weekend we moved out 12 koalas to keep them safe from fire. Through our research we have newly discovered these koala populations and how important they are for the conservation of the species. Our studies have shown the Blue Mountains World Heritage region supports koalas that have the highest level of genetic diversity recorded, and the population we have been working on Kanangra-Boyd National Park is one of only two populations in NSW that are free of chlamydial disease.

We have watched as these mega-fires have burned three of the koala populations we’ve mapped.  The weekend rescue operation came from a wild idea by our Executive Director Dr Kellie Leigh, to get in ahead of the fires to get some koalas out. We didn’t expect to be able pull together such a short-notice rescue mission, but everyone supported the idea including the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), because everyone was watching the same devastation and wanted to do something.

With only a two-day window where it was safe for us to go in ahead of the fires, it was a rush to organise the rescue attempt. We sent out teams into the rugged and steep terrain to track down the koalas that we had VHF radio trackers on, then sent in our climbing team to get them down. We gave them a health check then organised transport to get them 2.5hrs into Sydney to Taronga Wildlife Hospital who agreed to take them and keep them safe until we can release them again. A huge thank you to all of our experienced volunteers who helped on this massive effort, we could not have done it without you.

koala given water after capture

Koala given water after capture. Photo: Kath Davis

The koalas are in the best hands at Taronga, but the zoo is not set up to take this many koalas so we will be helping with collecting browse (branches from the eucalyptus trees that koalas eat) while they are held in captivity. We have to collect a truckload every two days. This has all been an emergency operation so please consider donating if you can, we also need to plan for the release of the koalas when it is safe, and we continue to work with WIRES and NPWS to rescue koalas from burnt areas. We also need to keep mapping these critically important koala populations, we can’t rescue them if we don’t know where they live. These 12 koalas are only in care now as a direct result of our research.

Thank you to WILD LIFE Conservation Fund and WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo for their support and generous donation of $5,000 to start off our bushfire fundraising appeal.
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