Although Australia is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic like the rest of the world, there is a sliver of good news for the land Down Under – the first rescued koalas are starting to be released into the wild.
The marsupials were rescued from their bushfire-ravaged habitats last year, and have been in the care of zoos and animal hospitals ever since.
With the 2019/2020 bushfire season officially over in Australia as of 31 March, rescuers have started releasing these animals back into the wild and, in some cases, even back to the tree where they were found.
The non-profit group released 12 of the animals back into their natural habitat in the Blue Mountains on 25 and 27 March.
The koalas were rescued in December last year, and had been in the care of staff at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.
Dr Kellie Leigh, executive director of Science for Wildlife, said in a statement: “While they have coped well in care, we are delighted to finally send our koalas home. We have been busy assessing the burnt area that we rescued them from, to establish when the conditions have improved enough that the trees can support them again.
“The recent rains have helped and there is now plenty of new growth for them to eat, so the time is right. We will be radio-tracking them and keeping a close eye on them to make sure that they settle in OK.”
Koalas are also being released in other parts of New South Wales, the state where Sydney is located.
Staff and volunteers at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, based four hours’ drive north of Sydney, released their first koala on 2 April.
The four-year-old named Anwen was rescued in October last year, and will be the first of 26 koalas to be released into the wild by the animal hospital over the coming days.
The remaining koalas will be split into three groups and will be released back to their original habitats in Crowdy Bay (South of Port Macquarie), and two areas in the Lake Innes Nature Reserve.
Sue Ashton, president of Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, said, “This is a heart-warming day for us – to be able to release so many of our koalas back to their original habitats, even to their original tree in some cases – makes us very happy.
“Anwen was our first ever female koala to be admitted during the bushfires and her recovery has been extraordinary. It marks a proud moment for Australia; to see our Koala population and habitat starting to recover from what was such a devastating time.”
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has also cared for koalas from Taree, the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury. The hospital said these will be returned to their “home” areas to be released.
Australia’s latest bushfire season nearly doubled the country’s greenhouse emissions.
As a result of the extensive damage, the country changed the rules of its Working Holiday Visa scheme to allow young Britons to count volunteering in bushfire-ravaged areas towards obtaining a second or third year visa.