Port Macquarie Koala Hospital releases its most famous bushfire victim Anwen – ABC

By April 5, 2020 April 22nd, 2020 Archive

ABC Mid North Coast       Posted Fri at 4:55pm          By Kirstie Wellauer and Luisa Rubbo

PHOTO: Anwen was badly burnt when she was brought in to the koala hospital. (ABC Mid North Coast: Kirstie Wellauer)

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Several world-renowned koalas rescued from a New South Wales fireground have now returned home having recovered in the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.

Key points:

  • Several koalas rescued from a New South Wales fireground have returned home
  • Following a full recovery, the koalas have been released back to the Lake Innes Nature Reserve
  • The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has been temporarily closed due to the coronavirus

It has been more than five months since a bushfire razed a large area of Lake Innes Nature Reserve, a known koala hotspot on the NSW mid-north coast.

One of the first koalas to be rescued and treated at the hospital was Anwen.

“Pictures of her had gone around the world. She was quite severely burnt,” said the hospital’s clinical director Cheyne Flanagan.

The koala became part of many homes around the world through the hospital’s online adoption page and her recovery was closely watched.

“She’s recovered really well, gained weight [and is] looking really good,” Ms Flanagan said.

“Her burns have healed, she’s good claw-return, so it’s all about letting them be koalas again.”

Home at last

Anwen was one of several koalas released back into their habitat.

PHOTO: The hospital’s goal is to get animals returned to where they came from. (ABC Mid North Coast: Kirstie Wellauer)

Whilst the bushland is looking quite different to what they knew, Ms Flanagan is confident they will settle in nicely.

“There’s good vegetation here and there’s plenty to sustain them so we’re really happy,” she said.

“This is our goal, to get animals returned to where they came from, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

A mother and a joey, a young male, and another female koala were released in neighbouring trees.

There is a method to the release program, aimed at encouraging breeding.

“We’re putting a ratio of males to females to mimic what happens in the wild,” Ms Flanagan said.

“So this young male here, oh boy, he’s in for a surprise in the next few months.

“Hopefully there will be heaps of young koalas in the near future.”

PHOTO: Laundry baskets are used to transport the koalas from the koala hospital to their natural environments. (ABC Mid North Coast: Kirstie Wellauer)

Koala Hospital volunteer Jeremy Bear said it had been a great achievement to be able to bring them back.

“It’s great to see that we are doing such a good job that we can get these koalas back out there,” Mr Bear said.

“Some of them we obviously lost along the way. But [there are] the amazing stories of the ones that have survived and hung in there and bounced back very well.

“Seeing them up in a tree in their native environment is wonderful.”

COVID-19 closes hospital

The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has temporarily closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But hospital president Sue Ashton said it may give volunteers some much-needed respite.

“Because of the bushfires we all worked, our volunteers worked, almost around the clock to keep the koalas in good health, to treat them, to keep the facility open,” she said.

“This is a forced break and I think some of our volunteers are probably well overdue for a bit of a break.”

PHOTO: Final checks before Anwen’s release. (ABC Mid North Coast: Kirstie Wellauer)

Mr Bear agreed, saying it “does just take the pressure off”.

“If someone’s not feeling well they don’t have to feel guilty for not coming in. They can do the right thing and stay home,” he said.

“Most of the volunteers have said they still want to come in, they still want to be there, they still want to help.

“If we’ve got less koalas it’s easier to spread the load between us and it also means we can get in, get the job done, and leave the hospital so we are not having too much contact with other people.”

The outlook for the koalas is “really questionable”, Ms Flanagan said, with potentially up to an 85 per cent decline in NSW with the changing climate.

“It’s a long road ahead. Whether they’ll ever recover good numbers we don’t know,” she said.

“But we certainly are going to do our best to try and achieve that goals with buying land and conserving habitat and trying to breed as many as we can.”