Many of us have directed our attention away from the destruction of Australia's 2019-20 bushfires and toward COVID-19 news. But even though time has passed and people have moved on, nature cannot, because it’s still recovering from the ferocious fires.
Many koalas perished while other survivors of their kind were left physically and psychologically injured. The wonderful rangers at Phillip Island Nature Parks are currently caring for 13 of these survivors. The koalas are undergoing recovery and rehabilitation to learn how to live in the wild again.
Thanks to WWF-Australia’s generous supporters, we are able to fund the important work of Phillip Island Nature Parks. One of the koalas in their care is Annie, who WWF-Australia Wildlife Emergency Response Officer Jennifer Ford met earlier this year on a visit to Melbourne Zoo.
Annie was undergoing life-saving treatment after being rescued, close to death, by members of the public following the fires that raged over the summer. Four months on, Jenn visited Annie at her new temporary home at Phillip Island Nature Parks to see her exciting progress.
Q: Tell us about your recent visit to Phillip Island Nature Parks?
A: I recently visited the koala conservation reserve on Phillip Island in Victoria to see how the recovery of some of the koala bushfire victims we saw a little earlier on in the year was progressing.
Q: How is Phillip Island Nature Parks helping the koalas to re-enter the wild?
A: It’s because of our supporters' generosity, through our bushfire fund, that WWF-Australia was able to provide three enclosures at Phillip Island Nature Parks. These facilities enable the koalas to start the important rehabilitation process. As they get stronger and healthier, they actually progress from a smaller to a larger enclosure. WWF-Australia has also funded two of these. They’re semi-wild facilities, which the koalas enter just before they're released to the wild. It's really important for the koalas to get back to behaving as normal koalas and have that vitality and strength to be able to survive in the wild.
Q: One of the koalas based at Phillip Island is Annie, how is she doing?
A: So Annie was rescued in Mallacoota back in January, and I actually saw her at Melbourne Zoo when she was receiving specialist critical care treatment. That was back in February, so four months later I saw her again at Phillip Island Nature Parks. She was climbing the trees and she looked fantastic! Back in February I did see she had quite severe burns to the pads of her feet and she also had an infection in one of her nails. The burns have cleared up really well. She did lose the nail, but it's great to hear that she's actually growing a new nail, something the vets weren't sure would happen. We've also learnt that Annie is only a few weeks away from going to that last stage of rehabilitation, which is in the semi-wild enclosure, so it's really fantastic to see.
Q: Seeing her progress after being in intensive care and then moving to a space like Phillip Island Nature Parks must make you feel good about what you're doing.
A: Yeah, it's really fantastic to see. There was so much devastation through the bushfires and so much wildlife was lost that I think hanging on to these stories of survival is really important for all of us. And to know that this crucial work that we do is worthwhile, that these animals will go on to live and hopefully breed in the wild. It really gives us a lot of positivity in the work that all of us have been doing, from those rescuers on the front line back in the fire fields to Zoos Victoria and now to Phillip Island Nature Parks. All of this effort is highly valuable.
Q: The next step for Annie is the semi-wild facility. Where to after that?
A: Annie is doing really well. She's feeding well, she's healthy and has all the signs of being a strong animal, so she'll be moving in a few weeks to the larger enclosure which is semi-wild. It will give her a feel for being back in the larger trees, getting her fitness back again. And then, when an appropriate place is identified for her, she’ll be released back into the wild. Which is the ultimate aim, to get all wildlife back into the wild.
Q: What about some of the other koalas that didn't make it to Phillip Island Nature Parks and of course the rest of the wildlife? What are your hopes for Australian wildlife generally in the wake of those devastating fires?
A: As we know, the 13 koalas at Phillip Island Nature Parks are lucky ones. It's very sad that many koalas didn't survive. The bushfires were just so ferocious that a lot of animals didn't get to the rescue stage. So it's hopeful that in the future we have the network where we can rescue more animals more quickly and get them the treatment and the care they need so that more can go back into the wild. Obviously protecting our natural habitat is vital. Supporting the important work that's being done by organisations such as Phillip Island Nature Parks is vital as well. And that we future-proof so that we're prepared for any upcoming emergencies.
For more information on the work Phillip Island Nature Parks does visit: www.penguins.org.au
Last summer's fires saw the largest single loss of wildlife in modern history. Many struggling Australian species have now been pushed even further towards the brink of extinction. Donate today to help our precious wildlife and habitats recover from this disaster.