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Nova Scotia woman caring for koalas amid Australian bushfires

Click to play video: 'N.S. woman helping to care for and rehabilitate koalas'
N.S. woman helping to care for and rehabilitate koalas
A Truro, N.S. woman is helping care for and rehabilitate koalas injured in the Australian wildfires – Jan 9, 2020

A Nova Scotia woman is helping care for and rehabilitate koalas injured by the Australian wildfires.

Amber Lilly, who’s originally from Truro, N.S., is working for Port Stephens Koalas, a rehabilitation centre in New South Wales, Australia, where she and her family moved to in 2018.

“Absolutely every koala that we get in and rescue, we need to do everything in our power to ensure that it survives, because I don’t think there’s going to be that many left,” said Lilly.

READ MORE: Australia’s wildfires are burning an area larger than the size of Nova Scotia

The first wave of koalas coming into the centre were suffering from severe burns to their hands and feet from clinging to trees, says Lilly. To ease the pain, staff would apply cooling ointment to the burns and give the koalas special mittens to wear.

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“When they let you care for them and you feel that they know that you’re trying to help them, it’s just, they’re a beautiful animal and to think of losing them is devastating.”

Now, Lilly says, they’re mainly seeing koalas that are affected by the drought and degradation of their habitat — which is estimated to be up to 30 per cent destroyed, according to Australia’s environment minister, Sussan Ley.

“Often we find them on the ground, heat exhausted, dehydrated and malnourished because they haven’t eaten,” said Lilly.

“Typically, if you have a couple hot day about 40 degrees, you might get some older koalas that can’t body regulate their temperature and things like that, but we’re seeing a lot of younger koalas in at this time, which is a bit of a surprise, so that’s something that’s a bit unexpected, so we know it’s bad out there.”

Click to play video: 'Australia bushfires: Authorities calls for another mass evacuation as extreme temperatures return'
Australia bushfires: Authorities calls for another mass evacuation as extreme temperatures return

One billion animals estimated dead

Chris Dickman, an ecology professor at the University of Sydney, says due to the “unprecedented” blazes, more than one billion animals are estimated to be negatively impacted — a lot of them will die immediately due to the heat and flames.

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He’d previously estimated 480 million animals would be impacted.

“These will be some of the more obvious ones, the koalas, kangaroos that are conspicuous,” Dickman previously told Global News. “You can actually see the bodies after the fires have gone through.”

Species that can fly or burrow may have better chances for survival, he said.

“The problem for them is that they’ll come out into a landscape where food resources have been greatly reduced, shelter resources will be greatly reduced or non-existent,” he said.

READ MORE: Canada considering more aid for Australia to help battle wildfires

Wildfires burning area larger than Nova Scotia

Fires are a regular occurrence in Australia. This year’s season, however, kicked off early and has been fueled by drought and extremely high temperatures.

Right now, Australia’s wildfires are burning an area larger than the size of Nova Scotia, size figures from officials show.

Fire services from New South Wales, Victoria and the country’s western region, say the fires have collectively swelled to 8.4 million hectares over the course of the last five months. Nearly 200 fires remain active — New South Wales and Victoria have been hardest hit overall.

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Click to play video: 'How a Canadian family survived the Australia wildfires'
How a Canadian family survived the Australia wildfires

Lilly says Port Stephens Koalas is currently operating at capacity, with 11 koalas in home care and another 16 at the rehabilitation centre.

“It’s sort of been a baptism by fire – literally,” said Lilly.

She says caring for the beloved Australian animal has been a dream come true, and she’s happy to do her part to ensure their survival.

“I feel like it’s a real pivotal time.

“I feel like this is a point where we can either lose the koalas forever, or we can save them.”

She added: “So to be part of that is a huge honour and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure these guys continue to survive in the wild for a long time in the future.”

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