SYDNEY — After months of treatments and recoveries, koalas severely injured in Australia’s devastating bushfires last summer have finally returned home.
Fourteen koalas have been released into bushland at sites in Victoria’s East Gippsland region, close to where they were originally found over the past month, with the final group of eight released over the past weekend, Zoo Victoria said in a statement on Monday.
The koalas which were rescued after the blazes in January this year, underwent multiple surgeries for severe burns and many months of follow-up treatment.
Following extensive treatment, they had also been “rewilding” by building up their strength, fitness and climbing abilities at a large enclosure at Phillip Island Nature Parks and Healesville Sanctuary.
Zoos Victoria senior veterinarian Leanne Wicker said it was special to see the koalas that have been through so much finally return to the wild.
“I will never forget the injuries and trauma that first confronted us in the wildlife triage units in January,” Wicker said.
“Sadly, there were many animals that we couldn’t save, but we gave our all to treat the badly burnt paws, noses and ears while monitoring for internal injuries.”
A report commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia revealed nearly 3 billion animals were impacted by last summer’s bushfire crisis, including more than 60,000 koalas.
Wicker said each koala has been fitted with a tracking device on the collar so that specialized animal health and science teams could monitor their progress over the coming months.
Researchers hope this could also provide valuable information on the health, welfare and long-term survival of recovered fire-affected koalas returning to the wild.