The recent large bushfires in New South Wales have killed more than 1,000 koalas and burned 80 percent of their habitat, according to Deborah Tabart, chair of the Australian Koala Foundation.
Recent bushfires, along with prolonged drought and deforestation has led to koalas becoming “functionally extinct” according to experts.
Functional extinction is when a population becomes so limited that they no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem and the population becomes no longer viable. While some individuals could produce, the limited number of koalas makes the long-term viability of the species unlikely and highly susceptible to disease.
Deforestation and bushfires destroy the main nutrient source of koalas, the eucalyptus tree. An adult koala will eat up to 2 pounds of eucalyptus leaves per day as it’s main staple of nutrients. While eucalyptus plants will grow back after a fire, it will take months, leaving no suitable food source for koalas and starvation a likely scenario for many.
There is a movement in Australia for the government to pass a bill that was introduced in 2016 but never passed. The Koala Protection Act would protect habitats and reduce or prevent hunting of the animals.
The screenshot at the top of this article is from a video showing a woman rescuing the badly injured koala. Click here to see it, but some may find it disturbing.
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service stated on November 19 that the perimeter of the fires in their state so far this fire season was over 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles). Six people have died, 600 homes have been destroyed, 1.65 million hectares (4.1 million acres) have burned, and the season is not even halfway over. The acres burned to date in 2019 is the third highest annual total since 1970.
As OCR said in a comment, during the surgery it was discovered that Sam had severe problems in her urinary and reproductive tract that were non-operable and had to be put to sleep. CNN has more details HERE.
In February Wildfire Today reported on Sam, an injured koala that was rescued from from a fire in Australia by a firefighter. Here are the photos from the February articles:
Well, Sam is not doing well, but not because of the burns he suffered in the fire. From an AP report:
But shelter spokeswoman Peita Elkhorne said Wednesday that Sam had developed abdominal cysts due to a disease called urogenital chlamydiosis, which affects up to 50 percent of Australia’s koala population. The disease can cause infertility, urinary tract infections and blindness and can be life-threatening.
Sam will undergo surgery on Thursday and the prognosis for surviving the operation is not good, Elkhorne said.
“We’re telling the public to brace for the worst-case scenario,” she said.
Elkhorne said Sam was “comfortable” but that a decision was made to try to remove the cysts because the disease can kill koalas.
She said Sam’s prospects would be known by Friday.
The suspect accused of starting a bushfire that killed 21 people is still being held in jail, at least partly for his own protection. He has been identified as 39-year old Brendan Sokaluk and was once a volunteer firefighter about 20 years ago.
Here is an actual screen shot from his MySpace page:
He has been charged with one count of arson causing death, along with other charges.
U.S. firefighters in Australia
A group of 60 from the United States arrived at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport on Sunday. HERE is a link to a video of their arrival at the airport.
Too much or too little prescribed burning in Australia?
While most of the recent articles in the Australia media recently about prescribed burning make the point that too little prescribed burning contributed to the fires becoming large, not everyone agrees. Lionel Elmore, who was burned out in 1983, claims in an article that prescribed fires have an adverse impact on hydrology and the timber industry.
The koala that was rescued in one of the fires in Australia now has a name and a boyfriend. Named “Sam”, the female koala has a protective male that was also rescued in the fires, named “Bob”, looking after her at the Mountain Ash Wildlife Shelter in Rawson, 100 miles east of Melbourne. Bob is making sure that Sam is OK and keeps an eye on her when she is moved by the caretakers.
Both of the koalas had their paws singed in the fires and will likely be cared for at the shelter for at least four months.
Firefighter David Tree was photographed in the video below giving water to the dehydrated critter on February 1. Tree can be heard saying: “How much can a koala bear?” Since then, the shelter has been inundated with phone calls with people inquiring about the health of the koala.
Of course this brings to mind the singed bear cub that was rescued by a firefighter in northern California last summer. That story had a happy ending last week when the healthy 100-pound bear was released into the wild. We hope Sam and Bob have similar success.
The official death toll still stands at 181 in the Australian fire disaster.
Koala rescued in one of the fires. From the AP:
Local CFA firefighter David Tree shares his water with an injured Australian Koala at Mirboo North after wildfires swept through the region on Monday, Feb. 9, 2009.
The koala moved gingerly on scorched paws, crossing the blackened landscape as the fire patrol passed.Clearly in pain, the animal stopped when it saw firefighter David Tree following behind.
“It was amazing, he turned around, sat on his bum and sort of looked at me with (a look) like, put me out of my misery,” Tree told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I yelled out for a bottle of water. I unscrewed the bottle, tipped it up on his lips and he just took it naturally. He kept reaching for the bottle, almost like a baby.”
The team called animal welfare officers as it resumed its patrols on Sunday, the day after deadly firestorms swept southern Victoria state.
“I love nature, and I’ve handled koalas before. They’re not the friendliest things, but I wanted to help him,” Tree said.
Tree says he’s spoken to wildlife officials, and the koala, nicknamed Sam, is doing fine. And he, it turns out, is a she.
UPDATE, Feb. 12: Our Feb. 12 post has an update on the koala (now named “Sam”) including a video of the rescue.
Controversy over eucalyptus removal The University of California at Berkeley has been trying for years to obtain a $5 million grant from FEMA to remove 12,000 eucalyptus and other non-native trees in order to reduce the threat from wildland fires. They have the backing of the City of Oakland, CalFire, and others, but some groups, including FEMA, do not agree. The San Francisco Chronicle has the story.
Aussies fight fire in record heat
Firefighters suppressing a fire near Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
A once-in-a-century heat wave is contributing to the workload of firefighters in Victoria, Australia where temperatures reached 109 F for the third consecutive day on Friday when 20 homes were destroyed in a 16,000 acre fire. Other fires are burning near Melbourne.
A rescued koala
A slightly singed koala was found and rescued on one of the fires.
Fires in Montana and Oklahoma
A fire near Selman, OK burned about 12,000 acres. It was one of five fires in Woodward and Harper counties.
Not to be outdone, Montana had a 20,000 acre fire south of Square Butte on Saturday, suppressed by 60 firefighters from 12 agencies. It was reported at 2:10 a.m. and was contained at 10:30 a.m.