After wildfires decimated their natural habitat, koalas who were displaced by 2019’s Australian bushfires are now being released back into their homes. Estimates of koala deaths resulting from the fires range from 8,000 to 25,000.
During the blaze, 12 koalas were rescued from the Blue Mountains area and have lived temporarily at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo since January 2020. Now, those adult koalas and one newborn joey have been released into the wild in Kanangra-Boyd National Park in New South Wales.
Science for Wildlife, a Sydney-based nonprofit organization, and San Diego Zoo Global, who have been working together on the Blue Mountains Koala Project for several years, teamed up to coordinate the return of the koalas.
“While they have coped well in care, we are delighted to finally send our koalas home,” Dr. Kellie Leigh, executive director of Science for Wildlife, said in a statement to press. “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 settled in OK.”
The organizations found the koalas via previously-installed radio tracking devices in order to rescue them, and they will rely on this same technology to track them after release.
On Monday of last week, Science for Wildlife took to Facebook that they had successfully released the first five koalas back into the Blue Mountains.
Then, a few days later on March 26, Science for Wildlife announced that they had now successfully released all the rest of the rescued koalas. The release of the others had been fast-tracked as a result of the spread of COVID-19.
“Over Monday 23rd and Wednesday 25th March, with the support of San Diego Zoo, S4W were thrilled to return of all of our koalas back to their home in the Blue Mountains,” read the post. “These marsupials, who are representatives of the most genetically diverse population of koalas in Australia, were rescued from the devastating mega-fire that moved through the area in December 2019.”
This was just one of many rescue missions that helped save some koalas during those devastating fires, although not all of them were successful. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates the koala population was at less than 100,000 — and possibly as low as 45,000 — before last year’s environmental disaster.
In addition to the fires killing over a billion animals, flames also destroyed many acres of land, making it difficult for koalas to live in their natural habitats. According to CNN, a recent report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare says koalas may be facing “an immediate, ongoing and significant threat of extinction” as a result.
We’re so glad that these koalas are back home where they belong! We hope to see the species recover all over Australia.