Life Science Environment Koalas badly injured in Victorian bushfires finally released back into the wild
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Koalas badly injured in Victorian bushfires finally released back into the wild

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After 10 months of medical treatment and rehabilitation, 14 koalas that were badly burned in last summer’s bushfires have been nursed back to health and released back into the bush in eastern Victoria.

The koalas were given emergency treatment for severe burns at triage centres in East Gippsland.

Special RAAF jets were used to evacuate some animals for treatment by staff at Healesville Sanctuary and Melbourne Zoo.

Some of the animals were so badly burned they had to have multiple surgeries and months of follow-up treatment.

When they were well enough, they were transferred to large enclosures on Phillip Island and at Healesville for “rewilding” to help them regain their climbing strength and fitness before being released.

It took months to treat injuries like this koala’s burned paw. Photo: ABC/Zoos Victoria

Ten months after being rescued, six of the koalas were released into the bush in East Gippsland, close to where they were found.

On the weekend, the final eight animals were released into regenerated bushland around Mallacoota, where a number of homes were destroyed by fire.

Dr Leanne Wicker (right) said it was so rewarding to see months of care pay off when the animals were released. Photo: ABC/Zoos Victoria

Zoos Victoria’s Jenny Gray told ABC Radio Melbourne that it was a long road to recovery.

“These 14 [koalas] had really bad injuries so they took a lot of hospital treatment and care. Then once they are through that, we need to rebuild their fitness,” Dr Gray said.

This koala was released into bushland around Mallacoota after recovering from its injuries. Photo: ABC/Zoos Victoria

Vet says releasing koalas at Mallacoota was ‘the best’

In a world first, each animal was fitted with a tracking device to help scientists monitor their progress and improve long-term outcomes for koalas returning to the wild.

“It was such a special moment to see these koalas – who have been through so much – finally returned to the wild,” Zoos Victoria senior vet Leanne Wicker said.

“It has been a huge undertaking and responsibility for all involved to slowly rehabilitate these koalas, and a real privilege to now be able to bring them back to their homes.”

Dr Wicker said seeing two of the koalas get out of their boxes and run up a tree was “just the best”.

“I remember saying to them: ‘Guys, I know this is a big day for you but I can’t wait, we’ll get you back, I promise’. And here we are and they’re both in trees around me and it’s pretty amazing actually,” she said.

Dr Wicker said the pair released at Mallacoota were very badly injured.

“Out of that devastating time in January it’s really lovely to bring life back to Mallacoota,” she said.