You might remember the gorgeous koala joeys - Annie-Sue and Eli from our previous blog post who were saved and now cared for by the Ipswich Koala Protection Society (IPKS).
We spoke to our proud supporter and WWF partner, Stephanie Rice OAM - Olympic Champion and World Record Holder, after she had the opportunity to get up close and personal with these koala joeys and express her gratitude to IPKS for all the incredible, life-saving work they do.
Read on to hear how the 2019-20 bushfires broke Stephanie Rice, her involvement with WWF and more on our campaign to double wild koala numbers on the east coast.
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Stephanie, who have you met today?
This is little Eli, he's eight months old, and we're at the Ipswich Koala Protection Society. I work with WWF and they have this amazing Koalas Forever program. Koalas we're already facing a tough time before the awful bushfires at the start of the year. It's really brilliant that they're doing this because we’ve just got to support the koalas. It's such an important animal for Australia and they're already facing a hard time. So I honestly hope that what these guys and WWF are doing will help double the number of koalas by 2050.
How did the 2019-20 bushfires made you feel when you first heard about it?
It was just so terrible at the start of the year to see so much of the footage, especially online about how devastating the fires were to the koalas. It just broke me. It was one of those things that you just can't unsee. At the same time, it was heartwarming to see locals trying to care for the burnt koalas. It was about that time that I reached out to WWF and said, ‘I want to be involved. I want to do something, I want to be hands-on.’ So it was really nice that this opportunity came around where I could meet people like Peter and Trudi and see the amazing work that they do.
How do you feel about the work that the Ipswich Koala Protection Society does?
What these guys do locally is incredible. There's just so much that needs to happen for koalas. They’re becoming extinct and that was already a problem before the bushfires. Now more than ever, it's important that we pull together and help restore their habitat because we've got people like Peter and Trudi who take care of them when they're sick and then put them back into their wild homes. But if their homes aren’t safe, then what are we going to do?
Peter's doing an amazing job and these guys in Ipswich are caring for these koalas around the clock and they have them for about a year. So the more support they can get, the better. It's super-important to support local organisations. I'm sure there are lots of carers around Australia and it's full-time work. So they need the support. If there were more people doing what they were doing, I'm sure the koalas would have a better chance of survival.
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Can you tell us a bit more about the newly launched WWF campaign called Koalas Forever?
The ‘Koalas Forever’ campaign is made up of three big factors. It's emergency response - people like Peter and Trudy who go out and care for these koalas, but also funding more hospitals. We saw when the fires happened, there just weren't enough people to help take care of the koalas and that was really unfortunate to see. It's sad that sometimes something so catastrophic has to happen before we now forward plan for the future. The next factor is habitat restoration - making sure their homes are safe so that the koalas can thrive in that environment, not just survive. Also, future-proofing - a big part of that is making sure that there’s a big pathway for these koalas to roam up and down Australia.
What is the goal of Koalas Forever and how can people help?
Hopefully in 2050, we can double the number of koalas and see more little guys like Eli survive. The best way that you guys can help and get involved is to donate, really helping to raise some money for the Koalas Forever program. You can go to wwf.org.au/donate, and we can help koalas like Eli survive.
Has taking a break from swimming given you the chance to do more work like this?
It's kind of nice to drop back to the grassroots stuff and help support local businesses and local organisations. When I got involved with WWF I was just so eager to get on-the-ground and meet people like Peter and Trudi and, and see this kind of work. It's really nice that we can interact with people again, and do this kind of stuff. It just feels good. It's great to get involved.
WWF-Australia proudly supports a number of operations like the Ipswich Koala Protection Society (IKPS) as their team of dedicated carers provide ongoing care and medical treatment to sick and injured koalas so that koala joeys like Annie-Sue and Eli can eventually be returned to the wild.
Koalas right now face numerous threats including bushfires, disease, droughts and heatwaves, and the destruction and fragmentation of their habitat. At this rate, koalas across eastern Australia are on the path to extinction by 2050. At WWF-Australia, we have a bold vision: to double the number of koalas in eastern Australia by 2050 as part of our “Koalas Forever” campaign. Our vision to #RegenerateAustralia are ambitious but critical and can’t be achieved without your help. Join us in re-imagining, restoring and revitalising our continent.
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