Port Stephens Koalas call on community to donate to help cover the cost of caring for unprecedented number of koalas

INJURED: Sooty, a 4 or 5 year old male koala, was burned in the Hillville fire near Taree. He is now in the care of Port Stephens Koalas. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts
INJURED: Sooty, a 4 or 5 year old male koala, was burned in the Hillville fire near Taree. He is now in the care of Port Stephens Koalas. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Five koalas caught up in the Mid North Coast bushfires came into the care of Port Stephens Koalas last week and the charitable organisation is on standby to receive more.

An unprecedented 20 koalas are currently in the care of PSK, pushing its capacity to 95 per cent, with many of those "high maintenance cases" requiring round the clock observation and expensive medicine.

"I expect we'll go to 120 or 130 per cent capacity," PSK secretary Ron Land said. "Particularly if we receive more koalas from the Taree fires, which we're expecting we will.

"I've never known us to have this many at the one time. We don't expect all of the koalas will make it but we'll do everything humanly possible to provide a good outcome for each. But the expense of it is great.

"We're desperately in need of financial assistance."

EDUCATIONAL: Amber Lilly from Port Stephens Koalas showing Tomaree High School student Carter Mullins, 16, how to feed the aged Tolley. The 9 or 10 year old male koala from the Mambo Wetlands has been in and out of care with Port Stephens Koalas since 2011 but has been a permanent resident since 2017. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

EDUCATIONAL: Amber Lilly from Port Stephens Koalas showing Tomaree High School student Carter Mullins, 16, how to feed the aged Tolley. The 9 or 10 year old male koala from the Mambo Wetlands has been in and out of care with Port Stephens Koalas since 2011 but has been a permanent resident since 2017. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

While the sanctuary and hospital, worth $9 million, is being built at One Mile for the care of koalas, Mr Land said PSK does not see "$1 of that money" and it remains a not-for-profit organisation reliant on the goodwill of the community.

PSK is calling on the community to donate to the organisation through its website to help cover the cost of medicines, supplies and cots for the koalas in care. With the high numbers of koalas currently in care for a wide range of reasons, from illness such as chlamydia to bushfire burns, the costs are mounting.

To meet the needs of the koalas currently in care, PSK is raising funds to buy IV drip stands, worth about $200, which are used to administer vital hydrating fluids. This is particularly important to the intensive care of a burned koala.

Another product PSK is seeking donations to buy of is Flamazine. PSK carers use this cream liberally on koalas with burns. It is a preferred product as the cream promotes skin growth, particular on the paws of koalas.

However, a 50 gram tube of Flamazine costs $70 and a 500g tub $600.

PSK carer Sue Swain, who has been with the organisation for 15 years, said she is currently using a a tube-and-a-half of Flamazine on Sooty, a four or five-year-old male koala from Hillville, near Taree, that is in her care.

Sooty received full thickness burns on all four paws, his feet and nose plus burns to his chin, eyes, ears and scrotum in the Hillville fire, near Taree.

Ms Swain said Sooty had lived in deep bush that was virtually untouched by humans. It was days before he was found.

"One of his paws had cracks and maggots in it. He'd been out there for a few days, burned and dehydrated," she said.

Two other koalas, named Blaze and Flash, that were caught up in the same fire received similar burns. They are also in the care of PSK.

"Nursing burned koalas is one of the most confronting things you will do," Ms Swain said. "Everything you do hurts them even though you try desperately not to. This boy is in a world of pain but he's stoic."

Ms Swain sedates Sooty twice a day to "slather" Flamazine on his feet and change the dressings on each. He wears a nappy to ensure he does not soil the dressings on his feet, which could cause infection.

Sooty also requires antibiotics, fluids and a drip feed on top of fresh eucalyptus leaf.

Ms Swain said that Sooty was on a long road to recovery, about 12 to 18 months, but he had a good chance of being released back into the wild. It depended on how his claws grew back.

Experts believe up to 350 koalas died when the a bushfire tore through crucial koala habitat near Port Macquarie earlier in November.

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has 37 fire-affected koalas in care from a number of fire grounds on the Mid North Coast.

Taree Koalas in Care has also been inundated with wildlife since the fires began.

HURT: Port Stephens Koalas carer Sue Swain tending to Sooty's burned paws. Sootie was rescued from the Hillville area, which was affected by fire. He was one of three koalas affected by the Taree fires to come into the care of PSK last week. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

HURT: Port Stephens Koalas carer Sue Swain tending to Sooty's burned paws. Sootie was rescued from the Hillville area, which was affected by fire. He was one of three koalas affected by the Taree fires to come into the care of PSK last week. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

"It's absolutely devastating," Ms Swain said of the koala deaths. "There's not enough crying in the world I can do about it but crying isn't going to fix it. All we can do now is our best for these poor creatures."

Mr Land said a group of 20 Tomaree High School students currently undertaking work experience with PSK were a "godsend" at such a busy time.

The students have received more hands-on training in the past two weeks to help out at the Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary at One Mile where 12 koalas currently reside. The remaining eight are in intensive care at the homes of carers.

As well as helping to feed koalas and maintain enclosures at the sanctuary, the students have prepared basket cots for the creatures in care.

"Having them here helping us means that our carers, many who have been doing double shifts to look after all the koalas we have at the moment, can take a break," Mr Land said.

"We're already seeing the benefit to this program with having them here at such a busy time.

Tomaree High School work experience students preparing baskets for the koalas. Picture: Ron Land/Port Stephens Koalas

Tomaree High School work experience students preparing baskets for the koalas. Picture: Ron Land/Port Stephens Koalas

"The short term benefits of this work experience program is that the carers can have a breather and the long-term benefit is that these kids are being exposed to the best and worst of the koala world and, if they want, can volunteer once the program is over.

"We're also seeing the benefit of this facility [sanctuary]. Without this facility, many of the koalas we currently have wouldn't have survived.

"Another reason why this [koala] hospital is so desperately needed is times like this, when we have so many koalas needing care. When the hospital is up and running we'll be able to do more."

  • To donate to Port Stephens Koalas visit portstephenskoalas.com.au/donate
  • If you see a koala in need of rescuing, phone Port Stephens Koalas' 24-hour rescue line: 1800 775 625

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