Annie the koala has had a rough start to the year. Thankfully she survived the ferocious fires that roared through Mallacoota on New Year's Eve, and then was rescued, close to death, by members of the public and flown to Melbourne Zoo for specialist emergency treatment.
That Annie is now recovering beautifully is a testament to the kindness of strangers, the expertise of zoo staff and the generosity of WWF-Australia supporters. Melbourne Zoo veterinary resident Dr Nick Doidge shares Annie’s remarkable story.
"Annie was found near Mallacoota about 10 days after the fire. She was in a completely burnt-out area, hunkered down in a burnt tree and not moving. There was no foliage at all around her to eat.
She was brought into the triage centre that we'd set up, suffering from moderate burns to all four feet, and to her chin and nose. Unlike some of the other koalas we've seen, her fur and ears were not badly singed, but the burns to her feet were pretty severe and required immediate attention. Koalas are highly specialised animals that require fresh leaves daily. We weren't sure if her kidneys and gut could recover from not having eaten for days. She was in a critical state.
Annie was treated for about three days at the triage centre before being flown to Melbourne Zoo, where she has been receiving treatment with us ever since. She's one of four koalas we have from Mallacoota. They were immediately put on fluids, given a full blood work-up, and they've all been having regular bandage changes, which needs to happen under anaesthesia.
It's absolutely vital to keep the wounds clean, so the burns can heal naturally. Annie also had infected claws, which we had to treat a little differently, because we didn't want her to use them and potentially lose them. Koalas need their claws for climbing trees.
Originally we changed the bandages on her feet every two to three days, but as the burns have healed the changes are getting farther apart. It was obviously painful whenever she walked on her feet because she would cry. Different koalas express pain differently, but that was her way. As the burns have healed, Annie's done less crying.
She's now having her bandages changed every five days. From the way she's healing, we may only need to do one more change, which is awesome. She was rather quiet at first, but now that the bandages are coming off and she's feeling a lot better, she's actually starting to turn into a wild koala again and moving around her enclosure a lot more.
The koalas will be at Melbourne Zoo while they need active veterinary care, including medication, but after that they’ll be moved into a larger rehabilitation area. When we're completely happy that they'll be able to survive in the wild, they will be released into suitable habitat, where there's lots of vegetation."
WWF-Australia Wildlife Emergency Response Officer Jennifer Ford has been working closely with Zoos Victoria and other partners around the country to ensure that vital funds donated to our Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund benefit fire-affected wildlife as soon as possible.
"WWF-Australia came in at a critical time to help treat and evacuate priority threatened species, including Annie and the three other koalas from the Mallacoota fireground. We could see that it was vital to partner with organisations like Zoos Victoria, who had the expertise to meet the urgent needs of wildlife on the ground. These partnerships have enabled us to rescue and rehabilitate many individuals.
Amid all the devastation, Annie is a success story, and we hope she’ll eventually go out and become a wild koala again. It's been really touching seeing the attention that Melbourne Zoo staff are giving her and how well she's doing.
Even before these horrific bushfires, Australia's koala populations had been declining. They’re now even more at risk, and the destruction of koala habitat is going to pose an ongoing challenge. It makes every individual that has survived, like Annie, important to the ongoing survival of the species.
As well as ensuring that individuals like her receive appropriate care, WWF is dedicated to protecting existing koala habitat and ensuring there’s no further habitat destruction. To regenerate our forests, we're committing to replanting up to two billion trees by 2030, and the first 10,000 of those trees will be in critical koala habitat. We must do our best to protect the koalas that survive.
Supporting the rescue and treatment of native animals is really just the first phase of WWF's bushfire response. Like Annie's wounds, healing our landscape will take considerable time and effort, and there's a long road ahead. But we are committed, and emboldened by the kind support we've received - from incredible and generous donors as well as our many hard-working partners, including Zoos Victoria. Together, we’re giving animals that have been injured, orphaned and displaced throughout the fires a second chance at life."
Through the WWF Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund, we’ve been able to deploy urgent support to wildlife and habitats impacted by bushfires. We’re also working with governments, businesses, scientists and communities to ensure long-term plans and projects are in place to restore and protect critical wildlife habitat.