Wildfires have been devastating much of Australia since September, with animals being among the hardest hit. Experts estimate that over 1 billion animals have perished in the flames. Koalas are among those hardest hit, with at least 8,000 believed to have perished in New South Wales, a third of the state's pre-fire population. Nationwide, 25,000 koalas may have perished.
In an interview with Sunrise, Terri Irwin explained why koalas are so hard hit: “Koala instinct is to go up, as safety is in the top of the tree. Eucalyptus trees have so much oil that they ignite and actually explode in a fire. That means being able to treat and help koalas is few and far between because they’re basically incinerated."
But for those koalas that do survive the flames, starvation and dehydration are a risk after their ecosystem that had already been devastated by months of drought is left smoldering.
There are plenty of videos out there of well-meaning people giving koalas a drink of water from their bottles. But one vet is warning against the practice after a koala, unfortunately, passed away.
Earlier this week Animalia Wildlife Shelter, in Melbourne, warned people that the act of kindness could ultimately be killing survivors of the wildfires.
“With all the Facebook posts about wonderful people caring for wildlife amidst the fire and heat disasters over these past weeks a silent tragedy is happening,” the shelter wrote on Facebook.
"Koala's are DYING because people are trying their best to help but don't understand how a koala actually drinks."
The shelter went on to explain that one of their patients, Arnie, had survived the fires with only a few minor burns. He was found in a distressed state by some well-meaning people who offered him a drink from their water bottle.
"They were just trying to help," the shelter continued. "They didn’t know that it is dangerous for Koala’s to drink this way. They didn’t know that Koala’s usually get most of their water via the gum leaves that they eat and they don’t often drink water, but when they do, they are face down and lapping small amounts with their tongue."
"They didn’t know that when a Koala holds it head up and takes in too much water, it can easily get in to their lungs and cause Aspiration Pneumonia, which is usually fatal. This is exactly what happened to little Arnie."
Unfortunately, despite the hospital's best efforts, Arnie passed away, with the Facebook post explaining that he had actually "drowned."
Instead, the shelter recommends giving animals water in a dish or bowl places on the ground. Hands can also be used as a makeshift dish, as long as the koalas is able to drink the water face down.