During the severe bushfires last summer, 14 koalas were badly burnt and were given emergency treatment at triage centres in East Gippsland.
Special RAAF jets were used to evacuate some animals for treatment by staff at Healesville Sanctuary and Melbourne Zoo some were so badly burned, they had to have multiple surgeries and months of follow-up treatment.
Soon after, when they were well enough, they were transferred to large enclosures on Phillip Island and at Healesville for “rewilding” to help them regain their climbing strength and fitness before being released.
After 10 months of medical treatment and rehabilitation, the koalas have been nursed back and released into the bush in eastern Victoria close to where they were found.
On the weekend, the final eight animals were released into restored bushland in Mallacoota, where numerous homes were destroyed by fire.
Henny Gray from Zoos Victoria told media that it was a long road to recovery, she emphasized “these 14 koalas had really bad injuries so they took a lot of hospital treatment and care. Then once they are through that, we needed to rebuild their fitness.”
On release, each animal was fitted with a tracking device to help scientists monitor their progress and improve long-term outcomes for koalas returning to the wild. This was dubbed as the world’s first.
For Zoo Victoria senior vet Leanne Wicker “It was such a special moment to see these koalas — who have been through so much — finally returned to the wild.”
She also revealed to have felt a huge responsibility, and for all involved as well, to gradually rehabilitate these koalas. Yet, it is a real honour for them to now be able to bring them back to where they belong.
Dr Wicker said seeing two of the koalas get out of their boxes and run up a tree was “just the best. I remember saying to them: ‘Guys, I know this is a big day for you but I can’t wait, we’ll get you back, I promise’. And here we are and they’re both in trees around me and it’s pretty amazing actually,” she said.
She pointed out that releasing the pair of koalas in Mallacoota, despite being devastatingly injured before, was lovely for her.