If you’re in Port Macquarie, Australia today, chances are you’ve got a couple things on your mind: extreme high temperatures and a sky choked with bushfire smoke.
On Monday, November 11th, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a state of emergency  ahead of anticipated “catastrophic” fire danger conditions expected in the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter and Illawarra-Shoalhaven.
Humans aren’t the only ones being impacted by these fires – animals are feeling the brunt of the heat as well. Among the places impacted by these bushfires is the Lake Innes Nature Reserve, where 500-600 koalas are protected. Officials say that least 350 koalas have died  in fires near Port Macquarie in recent days, which is about half the population of koalas living in the reserve and .5% of the total populations of koalas. Only 16 have been rescued.
This bushfire was likely started by a lightning strike and has since grown to 4,900 acres.
One of the reasons koalas, in particular, are being devastated by these fires is because of their host tree – the eucalyptus. Eucalyptus trees are highly flammable  and susceptible to wildfires. These fires result in the destruction of important habitat for koalas, and many koalas perish in the process.
Urban sprawl and climate change are alternate risk factors to koalas.
Sue Ashton, president of the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, is hopeful that rescuers will be permitted to enter the fire zone to look for survivors soon.
“If we look at a 50% survival rate, that’s around about 350 koalas and that’s absolutely devastating,” Ashton said.
“We’re hoping it’s not as bad as that, but because of the intensity of the fire and the way koalas behave during fire, we’re not holding out too much hope.”
“We’re hoping it’s not as bad as that, but because of the intensity of the fire and the way koalas behave during fire, we’re not holding out too much hope,” Ashton said.
Koalas have a natural defense against fires. Their reaction to flames is to climb high into the trees, allowing the fire to pass below them. But due to the dryness of eucalyptus trees and the unusually high heat, this defense mechanism may not be enough to save them.
If you live in the area, please keep an eye out for injured koalas fleeing the devastation. If you find a koala, please contact local wildlife organizations for assistance.
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