Responding to koalas injured in recent bushfires

Valeria Ruoppolo (IFAW), Fiona Ryan (Melbourne Zoo) and Nicola Rae (Lort Smith Animal Hospital) monitor a koala under anesthesia. The bushfires over Christmas in southwest Victoria, Australia destroyed numerous homes and huge areas of Eucalyptus (gum) forests, home to Australia’s iconic koala. The fires destroyed more than 2500 hectares, or almost 6200 acres of forest, resulting in extensive burned wildlife and mortalities.

IFAW was invited by the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) to join a team of wildlife vets at a triage centre that was established by DELWP specifically to treat wildlife affected by the fire.

Vet tech Nicola Rae checks on a critical koala. I was involved for a period of five days and in that time, almost 20 koalas were admitted for treatment of burns or a health check. Some koalas that had escaped the fire were captured and assessed for general health. The burned koalas were treated for their injuries, pain and smoke inhalation.

Follow up treatment reflected our priorities over days following admittances to ensure the greatest level of success in rehabilitation. Animals that needed longer periods in care were transferred to local wildlife carers.

The DELWP and Country Fire Authority (CFA) collaborated and contributed to the rescue and collection of wildlife in the areas burnt by the fire. Staff from the Melbourne Zoo, as well as several authorised veterinarians and veterinary technicians, were involved in the triage effort.

Koala waiting for veterinary approval for release.The overall response was extremely well-organised, with a high degree of cooperation and collaboration amongst all parties involved.

While not wishing another fire, it is good to realize that the authorities are better prepared with each such fire and response.

--VP

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