Australia — Wildlife rescuers say one of Australia’s largest and mostimportant koala colonies has survived a huge bushfire that swept through itshabitat in central western NSW.
Thousands of koalas came under threat from the blaze, which broke out in thePilliga Nature Reserve, near Coonabarabran, three weeks ago.
The fire already has scorched more than 82,600 hectares and firefighters arestill days away from containing it.
Two wildlife rescuers, one from Sydney’s Taronga Zoo and one from theNational Parks and Wildlife Service, on Wednesday began a search for koalas intwo areas of the reserve where they are known to thrive.
Taronga Zoo spokeswoman Danielle McGill, who spoke to the team followingtheir six-hour search, said they found groups of unharmed koalas in areas burntout by fire.
“They didn’t find any signs of dead koalas and no injured koalas,”Ms McGill said.
“The ground cover that they were searching through was quite badlyscorched, but it was low intensity so the flames actually only reached about twometres up the trees.
“So most of the koalas have obviously gone to the top of the trees andjust taken their chances and waited out the fires.”
Initial expectations were grim since eucalyptus trees burn fast and hot, MsMcGill said.
She said although koalas could move quickly they could do so for only shortdistances, making them easy victims of severe bushfires.
The rescue team arrived in Coonabarabran on Friday but could not access thearea because of the conditions.
Based on the positive outcome, the rescue team had no plans to conductadditional searches, Ms McGill said.
Firefighters still battling the blaze and performing clean-up duties willnotify local wildlife rescue services of any injured animals.
If an animal requires care it will be transferred to Western Plains Zoo.
Wildlife authorities say the Pilliga area holds the most genetically diversepopulation of koalas in Australia because of the size and quality of thebushland.
Warmer weather was expected for NSW over the next few days but the Rural FireService did not expect it to worsen current fire conditions, spokesman CameronWade said.
Hot and windy weather moving through Victoria has fanned more than 40bushfires there.
That weather pattern had affected parts of southern NSW and was expected tomove east towards the Tasman Sea, Mr Wade said.