Rescue team sent to save koalas

Rescue team sent to save koalas

1 December 2006

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New South Wales, Australia — The NSW Government has rushed a rescue team tothe state’s north to save koalas threatened by a large bushfire.

NSW’s largest koala population is in the Pilliga region, near Coonabarabran,where an enormous fire has devoured more than 100,000ha of bushland in thePilliga Nature Reserve.

Wildlife authorities say the area holds the most genetically diversepopulation of koalas in Australia because of the size and and quality of itsbush.

NSW Environment Minister Bob Debus last night ordered Sydney’s Taronga Zooand National Parks and Wildlife Rescue Service to urgently head to the Pilligaand get koalas to safety.

A Wildlife Rescue Service Van was to pick up a veterinary team from Dubbo’sWestern Plains Zoo en route.

Injured koalas were to be assessed at the scene and taken to Western PlainsZoo.

Taronga Zoo will also be on standby if koala casualties are high.

“One of the great challenges for wildlife in bushfires is the staggeringspeed with which the fires move and the searing heat they generate,” MrDebus said.

“Koalas are particularly vulnerable as they are tree dwellers and cannotmove fast enough on the ground to escape the flames.”

It was worthwhile rescuing the marsupials as research showed they were quitecapable of surviving once reintroduced to the bush, he said.

Authorities say the blaze is one of several blazes worrying NSW firefightersas winds strengthen and temperatures rise.

With 40km/h winds and temperatures in the mid 30s forecast across the statetoday, the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said more than 3000 firefighters wereworking to rein in 70 bushfires.

At least 24 of the fires were out of control, RFS spokesman Simon Heemstra said.

Mr Heemstra said most of the firefighters were deployed to fight seriousfires in the central and northwest regions of the state.

Fires at Mudgee, to the south, and the historic Zig Zag Railway in the BlueMountains, west of Sydney, were causing concern.

Mr Heemstra said some rural blocks around the Pilliga fire could come underthreat if conditions worsened.

“With those strong, hot dry winds there is always the potential of firesto get a bit of a run and also spot out of our containment lines,” Mr Heemstrasaid.

Mr Heemstra said the fire burning out of control at Wallaby Rock, near Mudgee,had so far burnt 2000ha of bushland.

He said the RFS would undertake extensive backburning and work on propertyprotection over the weekend.

In the Blue Mountains, firefighters and aircraft were establishing containmentlines, as well as water-bombing several fires burning out of control.

The Bells Line of Road was still closed this morning.

A total fire ban has been issued for almost half of the state.

Isolated showers and thunderstorms are forecast for parts of the state thisafternoon, and firefighters fear lightning strikes later today.

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