Koala Rescue: Woman risks her life to save koala from raging bushfires
It is estimated that hundreds of koalas have been killed since the fires began in October.
The devastating bushfires in Australia have destroyed lives, homes, and properties. Bushfire season was heralded by a lightning strike in a forest in New South Wales, sparking more than fifty fires that firefighters are fighting valiantly to put out. But there is another victim of bushfires – Australia’s iconic wildlife, and more specifically, the koala.
There are only 43,000 koalas left in the wild in Australia, according to the Australian Koala Foundation, and their numbers are on the decline, so much so that they are listed as ‘vulnerable’ under Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Even without taking the bushfires into consideration, koalas were already on the decline due to disease, poaching, and a habitat that is fast vanishing. It is estimated that hundreds of koalas have been killed since the fires began in October.
PORT MACQUARIE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 19: A koala with a leg injury sits on a tree after its rescue from a bushfire at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital on November 19, 2019 in Port Macquarie, Australia. (Photo by Tao Shelan/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
The fires have blazed through 4900 acres of land so far. According to Sue Ashton, the president of Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, two-thirds of the area, 300km north of Sydney, was koala habitat. “If we look at a 50 per cent survival rate, that’s around about 350 koalas and that’s absolutely devastating,” she said to Associated Press. “We’re hoping it’s not as bad as that, but because of the intensity of the fire and the way koalas behave during fire, we’re not holding out too much hope.”
“It’s a national tragedy because this koala population is so unique,” she added.
Koalas climb high into trees in order to escape bushfires. They do have a chance of surviving if the fire front passes quickly below them, but stand no chance of survival otherwise.
Some lucky koalas have been rescued and brought into treatment centres such as Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, which launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to treat koalas rescued from bushfires. But one of the luckiest of all the koalas is surely Lewis.
Lewis the koala was rescued by good Samaritan Toni Doherty who saw him cross the road and climb a smouldering embankment even as the fires raged wildly around him. “He just went straight into the flames,” Doherty told a reporter from Australia’s 9News, “and I just jumped out of the car and went straight to him.” Deciding to attempt a rescue, she plunged into the flames after the koala, whipping the shirt off her back to use to pick him up. Once she had the koala in her arms she brought him to her car where she fed him water out of a bottle and then used the water to cool his hot fur. As Lewis cried piteously, it was plain to see the various burns his little body had already been subjected to. It was clear that he needed urgent medical help.
Doherty drove the koala, now named Lewis, to a nearby sanctuary. Watch the video below to see her being reunited with Lewis.
Lewis is just one koala out of many. Although Doherty’s dramatic rescue of Lewis has brought international attention to the plight of koalas and other animals (both domestic and wild) who are victims of Australia’s bushfires, the Australian government must acknowledge that human-caused global warming is the driving force behind these bushfires. The Australian government doesn't take the threat of global warming seriously, and this denial is proving catastrophic.
No matter what happens to Lewis, it is important to note that animals are our responsibility to protect, and at the moment we are doing a very poor job of defending and safeguarding animals and the environment that we share with them. At a time when leaders of powerful countries are opting out of the Paris agreement, and even as governments of other countries deny that climate change exists, it is animals that pay the highest price. That is the biggest tragedy of all.