Thirsty Koalas Get Help From Humans as Fire Ravages Australia

Record heat linked to climate change has not been kind to the furry marsupials.
Jan 7, 2015·
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

It's a terrible time to be a wild koala in South Australia. Giant wildfires have made a record-hot summer even more unbearable. The good news is, some humans are trying to help.

Since Friday, 31,000 acres in the hills near Adelaide have burned, damaging more than two dozen homes and injuring at least 29 people. On Jan. 5, the Insurance Council of Australia declared a catastrophe for the affected region.

High temperatures have affected the koalas as well, forcing them out of their habitats.

A video posted recently by local Colin Phil Cook shows a distressed koala that he came across in the Adelaide Hills on what he described as a “scorching” summer morning. “I offered a helping hand from my water bottle and [the koala] drank eagerly without hesitation,” he wrote on YouTube. Cook noted that he had “no idea if it survived” the heat.

The furry creature Cook befriended is not the only koala escaping the woods. Kerry Goldsworth posted a video on Facebook showing another parched koala, which she found in her yard.

The past few summers have been difficult for the marsupials. Back in 2009, a video of a firefighter rescuing a koala, later named Sam, during a wildfire in Victoria went viral. Sam has since symbolized the loss experienced by Australians that year (more than 200 people died from bushfires in the region). She died a few months later from chlamydia; the Melbourne Museum now features her remains to educate visitors about the impact of extreme weather events on wildlife.

It's getting worse. According to Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, 2014 was the country's third-hottest year since record keeping began in 1910. The warmest year was 2013. Although bushfires are common during summer months, some scientists are saying that global warming has worsened conditions.

“Australian bushfires are on the leading edge of a global problem, we’re seeing really extreme conditions that haven’t been seen for 200 years,” environmental scientist Tim Flannery told Vice News.

The heat isn’t just forcing koalas to leave trees in search of water and new homes. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, rising carbon dioxide levels reduce nutrient levels in eucalyptus leaves. That could result in the malnutrition and starvation of the marsupials.

Worse news: Australia has been slow in combating global warming since scrapping a cap-and-trade plan in 2013. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in an interview with Fairfax Radio last year that “fires are certainly not a function of climate; they’re a function of life in Australia.” Abbott has challenged policies addressing climate change, and only after mounting pressure did he commit to contributing to the international Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries adapt to rising temperatures.

“The Abbott government has to stop climate denial and help to get the country prepared to adapt to more extreme conditions,” said Sen. Christine Milne at a recent press conference.