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Koalas Are Being Treated For Burns And Dehydration From Australia's Devastating Bushfires

At least six people have died and large areas of koala habitat destroyed in the catastrophic fires.

Posted on November 16, 2019, at 12:25 p.m. ET

Saeed Khan / Getty Images

Australia's already dwindling koala population is being further threatened by devastating bushfires that have burned more than 2.5 million acres on the country's east coast.

At least six people have died and more than 300 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales as of Saturday, according to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. Firefighters are also battling at least 60 fires across Queensland, while the Gospers Mountain fire has burned nearly 400 square miles and destroyed at least six homes southwest of Sydney, according to the Guardian.

Stefica Bikes / Reuters

The country's koala population has been left particularly vulnerable by the destruction, with as many as 350 koalas feared dead following bushfires that ripped through a vital koala habitat in the Port Macquarie area of New South Wales.

Search and rescue teams scouring the area for surviving koalas have brought at least 31 koalas to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital to be treated for burns and dehydration, the hospital said in a statement. A GoFundMe created by the hospital to has raised more than $700,000 to date.

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital/GoFundMe

Money raised from the GoFundMe campaign will go toward setting up automatic drinking stations for dehydrated koalas whose habitat has been scorched, and create a "Koala Ark" breeding area for the surviving koalas.

The koala population has already been threatened by widespread habitat destruction, chlamydia, and inbreeding. Females only produce one offspring a year, though some may only produce every two to three years, and dog attacks and car accidents also pose threats. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates 4,000 koalas are killed by cars and dogs every year.

Volunteer groups such as Koalas in Care have also taken in koalas found burned and dehydrated after the fires.

"This is the gruesome task of having to clean up burns and treat them and hope that their little paws recover," Christeen McLeod, who runs the group in New South Wales with her husband Paul, told ABC.

The couple runs a koala hospital in their home and treat the injured animals by sedating them when possible, cleaning their scorched fur and applying cream to burns. They were treating 24 koalas as of this week, including one they named Sooty.

Peter Parks / AFP via Getty Images

Koalas are particularly vulnerable to the fires, Paul McLeod said, because they instinctually climb to the tops of trees straight into the heat, and if they manage to survive the fires, they still have to walk across scorched earth when they come down to the ground.

"This fire's gone through our main koala habitat area, so we're expecting large numbers of koalas to come out of here," McLeod told ABC. "We expect it to be quite devastating."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.