For 40-plus years Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has been assisting the koala population in Port Stephens, providing resources and personnel following acts of natural disaster. Now, it's time Port Stephens returned the favour.
Following the devastation of the recent bushfires in Port Macquarie, Port Stephens Koalas (PSK) members have been on standby ready to provide rescue vehicles, rescue personnel and carers to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital if required.
"We will deploy personnel and other resources upon request to repay the lifeline provided selflessly by Port Macquarie to the koala population of Port Stephens," PSK secretary Ron Land said.
"It will take weeks, if not months, before the full effect of the devastating fires in and around Port Macquarie will be known. An exacerbating effect of the fires is loss of habitat critical to those koalas that have survived the fires."
Close to 3000 hectares of prime koala habitat near Port Macquarie was burnt during last week's Crestwood Drive fire, killing up to 350 of the marsupials and many other species, experts believe.
The koalas in that area are of national significance due to their genetic diversity.
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital clinical director Cheyne Flanagan said that made the aftermath of the fire a national tragedy.
"There was such a big, robust, healthy population that was away from cars, dogs and high incidence of disease."
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Port Macquarie Koala Hospital began treating the first of the koalas found burned by the bushfire on Sunday, one day after the blaze was brought under control.
Mr Land said that the treatment of koalas caught in bushfires was often a labour intensive and traumatic experience.
"Many survivors are often in great pain and badly burnt so the decision of their future is taken at triage," he said. "The koala's degree of suffering and well-being is always at the forefront when these decisions are made."
Mr Land said that construction was progressing on the Port Stephens koala hospital at Treescape in Anna Bay.
"The completion of the hospital which is desperately needed to care for injured and ill koalas in Port Stephens LGAis expected in April 2020," he said. "The new hospital and sanctuary is designed to treat and temporarily house koalas displaced from their home areas due to natural or man made disasters."
PSK currently has six koalas in home care with another eight at the rehabilitation facility.
"In anticipation of what is expected to be a grim summer PSK now has 25 Rural Fire Service accredited rescuers in addition to two diesel off road rescue vehicles ready for use."