How to help koalas affected by the Aussie bushfires

As if we needed more heartbreak as the bushfires continue to burn across the state, Lewis the koala died yesterday after his burns worsened.

The koala instantly became a national treasure after being rescued from the recent fires in northern NSW by local grandma Toni Doherty, and is one of an estimated thousand of koalas to have died because of the blazes.

The troubling reality for koalas after the fires

The already troubling situation faced by koalas, who are listed as vulnerable species in NSW and Queensland, has become dire due to the horrendous fires over the past weeks which has wreaked havoc on koala communities.

So far, the Australian Koala Foundation has estimated 1,000 koalas have been killed, and 80% of their habitat has been destroyed.

A koala is treated at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital after the 2019 NSW bushfires left it injured and homeless
Koalas have been hit hard by the harrowing fires. Photo: Instagram/NRMAInsurance

While taking a devastating toll on the population, Aussies everywhere are not taking the news lying down.

From hospitals to community groups, there’s a remarkable effort to jump on board to help our iconic fluffy friends, and here’s exactly how you can help:

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

A koala pictured at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital during the 2019 NSW bushfires
The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital is rescuing and rehabilitating koalas devastated by the bushfires. Photo: Michael Dahlstrom

An inspiring local effort has swelled in Port Macquarie, where the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital is working around the clock to help koalas who have been rescued from the blaze.

The hospital is where Lewis and other koalas are being treated, and given life-saving surgery.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to aide the hospital and has far surpassed its initial $25,000 goal so far raising a whopping $1.7 million.

President of the hospital, Sue Ashton, explained to Yahoo Lifestyle exactly how the donations of concerned citizens have pitched in and helped.

She said the funds are now being funnelled into a breeding program.

A donation box at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital where injured koalas are being rescued from bushfires
CEO Sue says donations are still welcome and will help the population recover after the fires. Photo: Michael Dahlstrom

“All of the money (donated) will go towards developing a wild breeding program in Australia,” she said.

According to Sue, people can continue to help out by donating through the GoFundMe page, or directly through the website, and can even adopt one of the koalas who cannot be returned to the wild, with a yearly donation.

She also gave tips and tricks for all the would-be Toni Dohertys out there, eager to save our koalas.

See an injured koala in need of rescuing - here’s how

Toni Doherty rescues Lewis the koala during the NSW nushfires
Rescuers like Toni Doherty should use a washing basket, or blanket to immobilise the koala, before calling a rescue service. Photo: CBS

“It’s important that people remember that koalas are wild animals,” she warned. “They have very long, sharp claws (which) can cause a nasty accident.”

“The best thing to do if they have a washing basket is to put it over the koala, and sit on it, or put something heavy on it so the koala can’t escape,” she explained.

If you don’t have a basket handy you can use a blanket, but approach the animal delicately, remember it’s wild and probably traumatised.

“If they don’t have a washing basket, if they’ve got a blanket or a big towel, they can approach the koala from behind and very gently place it over its head and body,” she said, adding a covered head will help soothe and calm a distressed koala.

“(After) just sit there quietly with it and call one of the wildlife rescue services like Wires or Fauna or Koala Hospital to actually come and rescue the koala.”

Come and visit the hospital

A koala sleeps at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
Visitors can come and see the work the hospital is doing. Photo: Michael Dahlstrom

If you want to see the impact of your help first hand, you’re more than welcome to pay the hospital a visit, as Toni Doherty did after her heroic act.

The centre is open from 7:30AM to 4:30PM, and visitors can even watch the surgery take place through viewing windows.

The centre is earning mountains of praise from Aussies everywhere.

Celebrity vet Dr Chris Brown shared a heartwarming snap of the hospital’s efforts to his Instagram account this week.

NRMA Insurance, who had been championing the habitat restoration cause long before the fires, has also partnered with the hospital to provide urgent medical equipment.

Looking beyond this hospital, there are other great services working to save the koalas in the wake of the bushfires.

Rescue services

As Sue mentioned, Wires is a NSW service that will pick up injured wildlife and get them urgent medical attention.

Making a donation to Wires is a great way to spread the effort and support the cause, and they have set up a special emergency fund here.

“If you find wildlife impacted by fires in NSW, please contact WIRES Rescue Line on 1300 094 737,” the organisation advises.

They also have information for the public on the fires and the impact on wildlife.

In Queensland, Wildlife Rescue Queensland does similar work and is also a wonderful way to make sure the resources to help koalas and other animals are readily available.

Community groups

For those wanting to donate items, grassroots community groups like the Rescue Craft Collective are encouraging volunteers to make blankets and wrappings for the wildlife affected.

“Rescue Craft Collective is a Community Action Group developed to help our community come together and make, craft and provide necessary items for the injured animals from the Australian Bush Fires,” the Facebook page reads.

It’s not just the bushfires that should have people rallying to help

CEO of Wildlife HQ Jarrod Schenk and Arlo the Koala visited Yahoo Lifestyle to give everyday tips for helping koalas survive. Photo: Supplied
CEO of Wildlife HQ Jarrod Schenk and Arlo the Koala visited Yahoo Lifestyle to give everyday tips for helping koalas survive. Photo: Supplied

As mentioned, the plight of koalas was far from peachy before the blazes hit.

Yahoo Lifestyle spoke to CEO of Wildlife HQ, and handler of Arlo the famous koala, Jarrod Schenk, who gave aspiring wildlife warriors some tips for keeping koalas safe.

Watch your cats and dogs

Cats and dogs can be deadly for koalas as they have a low immune system so even the smallest bite from a pet can prove lethal.

“Cats should never be allowed out at night because they’re a predator, and dogs, it’s a matter of keeping an eye on them,” Jarrod said.

“If they’re barking, know why they’re barking and if you let them off-leash (during the day) make sure you know where they are.”

Stop for roadkill

When driving through areas signposted as having koalas, Jarrod urged us to stop and investigate if you see dead or injured wildlife.

“If there’s any lump on the side of the road, people should report it,” he said, “Whether it looks like a koala or a wallaby.”

“If a koala gets hit by a car, a joey can live in the pouch for nearly 48 hours after, it’s in mum’s pouch waiting to be rescued. And every single one does count.”

So if you see something, you should still call your local animal rescue line.

Plant and protect

If you can, plant a food tree for koalas, Jarrod said, just check with your local nursery as to what variety of gum tree the koalas in your area enjoy eating, as koalas are fussy creatures.

But the biggest responsibility falls to people who have gum trees on their private property.

“We’ve cleared 80 percent of koala habitat, and of the remaining habitat, most of it is on private property, so people have a lot of control over whether those trees are cleared because they’re on their land,” Jarrod explains.

“What we’re going to face if we don’t save the trees is local extinctions, so different areas will have small populations go extinct. So we really need to preserve those trees and keep them linked because otherwise, they become fragmented and the koalas can’t get between the fragments and if they try, they face are cats and dogs.”

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