(TMU) — News about the heartbreaking plight of Australia’s koala population has led to a global outpouring of support for the iconic creatures, who have been suffering losses, injuries, and displacements on an enormous scale amid the country’s ongoing bushfire crisis.
For the last two months, devastating bushfires have swept through the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland, laying waste to the koala’s natural habitat and further pushing the threatened marsupial toward what one expert described as “functionally extinct” status.
The koalas are incredibly vulnerable to the fires largely because of their “terrible” skills at surviving fires. Generally, koalas attempt to escape fires by climbing to the tops of trees and curling into a ball, where they end up getting burned alive.
Now this is one grateful koala! A NSW Parks and Wildlife officer gave the "little mate" a much-needed drink after being found on the Bills Crossing fire ground last week.
Video: New South Wales Rural Fire Service – Mid Coast District via Storyful pic.twitter.com/6G6aQSnUbG
— The Weekly Times (@theweeklytimes) November 28, 2019
Even when koalas manage to survive the fires, chances are high that as they climb down trees smoldering from the fires, they scorch their paws and claws—rendering them effectively disabled and unable to climb properly again.
In a grassroots response meant to assist the distressed and burned marsupials, Australians are now pooling their resources to help send handmade mittens to animal hospitals assisting the species.
One group, the Animal Rescue Freecycle Craft Guild has even published a guide on Facebook that offers instructions on sewing, crocheting, and knitting mittens for the koalas.
— Brooke (@B_Richardson_) November 24, 2019
And meanwhile in the Netherlands, the quilting community has united to craft over 400 pairs of mittens for koala crisis centers in the affected regions.
One such crisis center that has been working around the clock since late October is the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, which has been tending to dozens of badly burned and injured koalas.
After the animal hospital set up a GoFundMe campaign last month with a humble target of $17,000 to help them acquire automatic drinking stations for displaced koalas, they have seen an outpouring of support from across the globe, including from the U.S., New Zealand, Germany, and the U.K.
Koalas rescued from fire grounds are treated at The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital for burns following weeks of devastating bushfires in Port Macquarie, Australia #NSWFires #AustraliaFires 📷: Nathan Edwards pic.twitter.com/G0P52SQlvX
— Getty Images News (@GettyImagesNews) November 30, 2019
The hospital has now raised over AUD $1.875 million (or roughly USD $1.2 million). The campaign page explains:
“The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has been overwhelmed by the kindness, good wishes and support from the Australian and international community for the wildlife icon, the koala.”
Continuing, the hospital explains:
“Initially, the hospital’s aim was to raise money to purchase and distribute automatic drinking stations which will be installed in the burnt areas to help in koala and wildlife survival.
The number of drinking stations being built has now been increased and they will be shared with other wildlife organizations in fire affected regions across New South Wales. Two are being built for dispatch to the northern rivers fire area next week.
We are also purchasing a water carrying vehicle with fire fighting capabilities to replenish the drinking stations with water as needed.”
And because the donations have surged to such a stunning degree, the hospital is now extending its ambitions to establish a wild koala breeding program.
Conservationists and monitoring groups say that the koala population has fallen precipitously due to habitat loss through urbanization, disease, dog attacks, and the devastating effects of global heating. The current number of koalas living in the wild is expected to be as small as only 43,000.
However, with the historic wave of fires destroying the heart of the marsupials’ habitat, many have estimated that the koala population is facing unprecedented losses ranging from the hundreds to well upwards of a thousand.