Hundreds of koalas feared dead in Australian bushfire

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire near Forster, New South Wales, Australia, on Oct 27, 2019.
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire near Forster, New South Wales, Australia, on Oct 27, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CANBERRA (DPA) - Hundreds of koalas are feared to have been burned alive in an out-of-control bushfire that raged their prime habitat in Australia's east coast, wildlife conservationists said on Wednesday (Oct 30).

The blaze, which started on Saturday reportedly due to a lightning strike near Port Macquarie in eastern New South Wales, has burned more than 2,200ha, including an important koala breeding ground.

Ms Sue Ashton, president of Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, said the bushfire burning in the vicinity of Lake Innes, south of Port Macquarie, was a very healthy breeding region with hundreds of koalas.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) has been fighting the blaze, which has been spreading to the south, for days. Due to strong winds, it has not been contained yet.

"The koalas in that area are genetically very diverse and have very good bloodlines due to mix-and-cross breeding. They can adapt to a lot of changes, like habitat- or climate change-related (conditions)," Ms Ashton said.

"So the koalas there are nationally significant. They are very unique in Australia and they would have helped in a lot of research related to koalas. The loss is a tragedy," Ms Ashton told dpa on Wednesday.

She said the RFS would not allow anyone to go to the area until it is safe. RFS said on Wednesday while the conditions are easing, the fire is still burning and is spreading due to a number of spot fires started by embers.