The bushfires across Australia have devastated communities but the biggest death toll has been our unique wildlife. With desperate animals on the run from the infernos across parts of eastern Australia and South Australia, videos have emerged of koalas drinking water from well-meaning passers-by and firefighters. While it's heartwarming to watch, experts have warned it can actually do the koalas even more damage.
The 2019-20 bushfire season has been a particularly catastophic one in Australia with more than 2000 homes destroyed, according to NSW RFS, and 27 people killed Australia-wide.
Building Impact Assessment continue assessing the damage to properties in fire affected areas. This season 2,079 homes destroyed, more than 24,000 buildings saved. 1,163 homes lost since 1 Jan. Figure likely to increase as teams work through the area. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/q7shK7fIuz
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 10, 2020
Left off that tally is the estimated billion or so wildlife that's perished in the fires, which has decimated key koala populations. According to WWF, around 8400 koalas have been killed in NSW alone and with water already scarce in those affected regions, surviving koalas are struggling to find water.
— Taylor Green (@Tayinthewind94) January 7, 2020
"Normally, they obtain their water from moisture in the eucalyptus leaves, but trees are now drier from drought or burnt entirely," Dr Christine Hosking, a koala expert from the University of Queensland, told Lifehacker Australia in an email.
Heartbreaking that these sweet, innocent koalas and other fur babies are suffering. Poignant moment of love and kindness, as this koala grasps the hand of a rescuer.????#AustralianBushfiresDisaster pic.twitter.com/j9sk27zJ67
— Dr. Dena Grayson (@DrDenaGrayson) January 12, 2020
If you do come across a koala in need of water while driving through drought or bushfire-affected areas in Australia, it is a good idea to help them out but Dr Hosking cautions against giving them a water bottle.
"They can inhale water into their lungs and drown if water is poured into their mouths because this is not their natural way to drink," she explained. "It is best to allow them to lap from a container or even your hand."
With more koalas and other wildlife losing their homes and food sources to the fires, it's important to help stranded animals get to safety where possible. Dr Hosking recommended using a blanket to help the stressed animal into your car and taking it straight to care.
"Be swift. Bundle it in a large towel or blanket, making sure to also cover its head for your safety and to reduce its stress and take it to the nearest wildlife hospital, vet or wildlife carer," Dr Hosking said.
"The key thing is to get it to medical care ASAP, while minimising its stress by keeping it covered in a quiet environment, for example, no dogs or noisy people. This applies to all other rescued wildlife too."
There are a number of places you can donate to if you want to help support wildlife recovery, including:
As of Monday morning, ongoing bushfires have continued to devastate Australia. At least 24 people have died, many are missing, and roughly 4.9 million hectares and one thousand homes have been destroyed in New South Wales, one of the hardest-hit states. The fires have also ravaged the lands of national parks and impacted the air quality of major cities like Sydney. Here's what you can do to help.