Heroes Save Koalas From Australia's Wildfires
With hundreds of animals already lost, hear how people (and pets!) are stepping up to save them.
As bushfires continue to rage in Australia, residents and firefighters are working non-stop to rescue some of the continent's most vulnerable residents: koalas.
According to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, bushfires that took place in and around the town of Port Macquarie in New South Wales earlier this month devastated the local koala population. They estimate that as many as 350 koalas perished from the fires and massive areas of the animal's habitat have been destroyed.
Thankfully, there are efforts in place to help save the furry marsupials, including the heroic action of a woman who raced into a fire and saved a koala who was climbing a burning tree.
Toni Doherty was passing through an area known as Low Flat when she saw a small koala crossing a road where fires were burning on either side. When the animal started climbing a tree that was being licked by flames, Doherty jumped from the car and used her own shirt to wrap the animal and carry it to safety.
Check out the footage captured by a news crew at the scene of the fire...
Doherty said she didn't think twice about saving the koala, who she affectionately named "Lewis," after one of her grandchildren.
"He just went straight into the flames, and I just jumped out of the car and went straight to him," Ms Doherty told 9News .
Doherty and her husband drove the injured koala to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital where he's being treated for severe burns. The hospital says the koala is in "very serious condition," and that he may not be let back into the wild because his injuries are so bad.
Doherty was allowed to visit Lewis at the hospital yesterday where she fed him eucalyptus leaves as he rested. The medical staff called her a legend for risking her own safety to save the animal. Doherty says it was just natural instinct.
"I knew if we didn't get him down from the tree, he would have been up there in the flames," she said.
Along with the heroic efforts of humans, a dog named Bear is doing his part to help rescue crews find injured koalas after the fires have passed.
The border collie mix was given up by his owners after he was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). He now serves as a rescue dog with Detection Dogs for Conservation.
When Bear picks up the scent of a koala, he sits very still to let his trainers know that an animal is nearby.
The team recently took part in an animal rescue search in an Indigenous Protected Area near the village of Wardell, which was hit hard by two fires in the past month.
While the crew was worried that conditions of strong winds and hot temperatures would make it difficult for Bear to pick up a scent, he was able to locate a number of koalas at different locations.
"Now, more than ever, saving individual koalas is critical," IFAW's wildlife campaigner, Josey Sharrad told Metro UK . "With such an intense start to the bushfire season, it will be many weeks and months before some of these fires are out. All the while, wildlife will continue to need to be rescued and treated and may remain in care for some time."
Thankfully, there are humans (and dogs) who are up to the task.
Along with housing as many injured koalas as possible, the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has started a GoFundMe campaign to develop and install portable drinking stations in fire-ravaged areas. It's their hope that the drinking stations will give struggling wildlife a necessary resource to survive the aftermath of the fires. You can make a donation by clicking here.