The Australian bushfires which are presently spreading uncontrollably across the country are an apocalypse for wildlife, and they are leaving many innocent koalas lost and confused, and badly burnt.
The toughest thing for many of us at the moment is seeing images of koalas in hospitals recovering from their burn injuries, and unbelievable images and videos of koalas walking out of the wild, straight up to humans, trusting them, and begging for water. You know times are bad when a wild animal walks up to a human begging for help.
As of today, it is estimated that one billion animals have perished, and countless are being rescued by volunteers, wildlife and veterinary staff, as well as everyday people who are coming into contact with them. Koalas were already endangered before the fires, and now they are said to be 'functionally extinct'.
I am especially impacted by these images because as you all know I volunteered at Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital for almost a year, specifically in the koala hospital wards. This was one of the most special (and addictive) experiences of my life. I helped with food distribution, cleaning, and basic health care. I never knew when I began volunteering how much I would love it... and how much I would fall in love with koalas. It started as a one month experience, and ended up lasting about a year, and I will probably return each time I go back to Australia.
Here is a video of me with one of my koalas:
This koala addiction I developed was best described as follows, by another longterm volunteer at the wildlife hospital: "they [koalas] just get under your skin." They are such sweet, innocent, peaceful creatures, and they each have their own little personalities... I don't know what it is, but you just feel calm and peaceful around them and you can often tell that they appreciate what you do for them and they are sometimes even curious about you.
As wildlife carers, we are never supposed to interact with the koalas, this is always kept to a minimum, but there is still some interaction whether you try to avoid it or not. As wildlife carers we do not want to domesticate koalas or have them get attached to us or relying on us in any way, which is why contact is kept to a minimum. They are specifically in the hospital to heal, and the goal is for them to go back into the wild. So although they are in enclosures and sitting on Eucalyptus branches, they are still only in transit, and eventually will be on their way back home to the EXACT spot where they came from.
Koalas and their personalities: Some koalas just want to be left alone, some are scared, some are depressed, some are anxious, some are exhausted, some are full of energy... and others are curious and like to observe you closely as you clean their enclosure. Some even go so far as wanting a hug and affection, believe it or not! I remember my first day at the hospital, one koala saw me and was weirdly curious about me for some reason. The second I walked into his enclosure he stared at me intensely, and then climbed down his branch --he did not let his eyes off me for a second-- and walked straight up to me with a mission. He lifted his arms up and wanted to climb up my gumboots and legs. He basically wanted a hug. Although many animal carers will say this is not true, I know otherwise, and many others know this to be true as well. It is a question of a koala's personality. It was my first hour at the hospital and I didn't know what to do as I was told to never handle the koalas. So I stood there like a statue, although I felt the connection and wanted to give him the hug that he wanted. But another volunteer quickly ran over, whipped him up, and put him back on his branch so we could complete the cleaning of his enclosure.
Below is an article about Veterinarians going into bushfire zones to save animals. Generally, veterinarians are not allowed to care for koalas, only specialised wildlife veterinarians and approved staff and volunteers can do so by law. At the moment however, things are so bad that veterinarians have been given permission to enter fire zones and do what they can.
Koalas are very protected in Australia and there are many rules and laws around who can treat them, who can nurse them to health, and even about the types of photos and information which can be published about koalas. I once worked for a non profit animal welfare organisation and although they are famous for saving wildlife and domestic animals, they were not allowed to ever publish images of injured koalas or koalas in recovery in the hospital, by law. But now after the bushfires, these laws are obviously not so important. It is more important to show people what the koalas are actually going through, and not hide it for tourism purposes.
Tell me below or prepare a presentation for class: What are your thoughts on climate change? What are your thoughts on the Australian bushfires? Did you feel impacted by the images you saw? What do you know about koalas? What have your learnt about koalas today?
More koala hugging videos below! ;)