SYDNEY — Conservationists fear hundreds of koalas have perished in wildfires that have razed prime habitat on Australia’s east coast.
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital President Sue Ashton said she hoped wildlife carers would be allowed to begin their search of the fire zone for survivors on Thursday.
The fire was started by a lightning strike on Friday in a forest in New South Wales state, 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of Sydney, and has since burnt 4,900 acres.
Two-thirds of that area was koala habitat, Ashton said.
“If we look at a 50% survival rate, that’s around about 350 koalas and that’s absolutely devastating,” Ashton said of the death toll.
“We’re hoping it’s not as bad as that, but because of the intensity of the fire and the way koalas behave during fire, we’re not holding out too much hope,” she added.
A few koalas have been rescued.
In one case, by a very brave woman. She ran towards the fire to save an injured koala wrapping him in her shirt and then poured water on his burns to ease the pain.
The moment was captured in this dramatic video.
A certain casualty if it wasn’t for Toni Doherty, a grandmother of seven who put her own safety aside following him in.
Toni Doherty, rescued Koala: “He just went straight into the flames and I jumped out of the car and ran towards him.”
Lewis is badly burnt. Overnight, he was given a lot of fluids. His paws carefully wrapped in bandages. And today, he managed to have a munch on some eucalyptus leaves. Toni says she didn’t think twice when she saw him in trouble.
“Just natural instinct. I knew if we didn’t get him down from the tree, then he would have been up there amongst the flames.” said Doherty.
There’s a chance the little guy is too badly burned to go back into the wild, so he may join the breeding program where there’s a mate ready to meet him.