After one of the worst fire seasons to impact the rapidly declining Port Stephens koala population on record, some good news has emerged with one of the severely burned pouched mammals now healed and prepared to be released back into the wild.
Eila, a five-to-six year old mother, was found by Port Stephens koala rescuers suffering from severe burns - most significantly to her paws - as a result of the horrific December 13 Mambo Wetlands fire last year.
It is understood that at least five koalas perished in the deliberately lit bushfire.
The Port's longest serving carer, Anna Bay's Sue Swain, said that it was a miracle that Eila - who was carrying a joey at the time - survived the intense fire.
At the same time, Ms Swain has called on the public to report all koala sightings in future.
"Eila had protected her joey [named Cohen], aged about 12 months, and suffered terrible burns and blisters to her paws," Ms Swain said. "Due to mum's protective instincts, Cohen received only slight injuries and was returned to his Salamander Bay habitat after a short stay in care."
Ms Swain said that in the six months since taking Eila into care, the young mum has recovered well although it would be another few months [during spring] before her paws grew back to normal size.
"Hopefully by the time she is ready for release, the trees at Mambo Wetlands where she was rescued would have also regenerated to allow for her release back into familiar territory."
Fearing a more rapidly declining population, Port Stephens Koalas (PSK) has called on residents to report all koala sightings in future, "regardless of whether or not people believe they may be in danger".
"The number of rescues are down by almost half this year which is not a good sign," Ms Swain said.
"We have experienced and qualified carers ready to respond to koala sightings for an immediate visual check. Our carers can spot a health issue and immediate treatment if required."
While Eila continues her recovery at the One Mile Beach sanctuary, Ms Swain has taken into care another injured koala, named Medowie Bindi, after the 18-month-old juvenile was spotted in Hodges Drive, Medowie, with a wet behind (sign of chlamydia).
It was the 646th koala the Anna Bay grandmother has cared for in her 15 years with Port Stephens Koalas.
Medowie Bindi takes the total number to 4790 of koalas to be recorded in PSK's database since 1994.
This includes koalas rescued, as well sightings of koalas found dead or alive.
As of June this year, the total number of koala sightings reported to PSK is 28.
In 2015 that number was 42 and in 2005 it was 52.
"There are many factors involved in why numbers have declined over the years, but we believe it indicates a reduction in koala numbers in the wild," said PSK data manager Murray Black.
PSK has a new rescue number, 1800 PS KOALAS, which can be contacted 24/7.
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