(TMU) — Three koalas who were rescued from Australia’s brutal bushfire crisis have been named in honor of the American firefighters who were tragically killed in an air tanker crash late last month.
The displaced and injured marsupials—who are now named Ian, Paul, and Rick—are currently residing at a temporary “5-star koala hotel” located on the campus of Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where they are recovering from the devastating wave of wildfires that laid waste to their habitat.
The three firefighters being commemorated are 44-year-old Captain Ian McBeth of Great Falls, Montana; first officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 42, of Buckeye, Arizona; and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan, Jr., 43, of Navarre, Florida.
In a statement from the university, ANU researcher and koala nutrition expert Dr. Karen Ford said:
“We have 11 koalas at ANU that have come in from the various fire grounds in the region.
They just keep arriving. There is nowhere else that has the facilities to hold these animals or this many at the moment.”
Welcome to the "5-star koala hotel" – ANU is providing a safe-haven for displaced and injured koalas, with three individuals named after the American aerial firefighters tragically killed in the air-tanker crash in southeast NSW. @BiologyANU https://t.co/ACY2Cyusti pic.twitter.com/U2yhvkfGCO
— Science at ANU (@scienceANU) February 2, 2020
Ford, who is running the “hotel,” plans to keep the koalas in the temperature-controlled facilities for a few weeks in hopes to fully tend to their injuries before finally returning them to the wild.
“There are a couple with burn injuries and the rest have come from completely burnt habitat and they are quite skinny.
These injured animals have been very stressed. They have gone through a bushfire but they are doing well. They are eating well and have calmed down a lot.”
The three firefighters were all U.S. military veterans, and their C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker had been chartered by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. They had been on a mission dropping fire retardant to extinguish the still-raging wildfires before the crash occurred. Over 100 firefighters from the U.S. have been hard at work in Australia helping the country come to grips with the historic wave of bushfires.
Tens of thousands of koalas are assumed to have died in the bushfires, which have also claimed upwards of one billion animals, although a complete death toll remains impossible to calculate. The massive loss of life constitutes a major blow to biodiversity in a country where 87 percent of wildlife is endemic, meaning it can only be found on Australia.
Ford explained that anyone who comes across injured or distressed koalas should contact local wildlife agencies rather than taking matters into their own hands, even if they only intend to catch, feed, or provide water to the creatures.
“You need to know something about koalas to feed them, otherwise you can unintentionally starve them.
“Koalas also don’t drink a lot of water, and if a koala takes water they may be stressed. If you are not aware of their habits you might not even realize that you are not feeding them appropriately.”
The plight of koalas has been a subject of international concern since the fires grew to monstrous proportions beginning in September. The species breeds incredibly slowly, so rescuing just a single koala is crucial for their future.
“I am really pleased we can help these koalas otherwise I don’t know where they would have gone.”
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