Koalas rescued from path of raging bush fire near Sydney

A handout photo taken on Dec 17, 2019, by the Taronga Zoo shows rescued koalas in its temporary shelter at the facility in Sydney.
A handout photo taken on Dec 17, 2019, by the Taronga Zoo shows rescued koalas in its temporary shelter at the facility in Sydney.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - A dozen koalas have been rescued from the path of bush fires raging near Sydney, conservationists said on Tuesday (Dec 17), as devastating blazes increasingly encroach on critical habitat.

Rescuers scaled trees this week to retrieve three adult males, five adult females and four joeys, whose habitat is under threat from a fire burning across 140,000ha in the Blue Mountains.

The koalas have been relocated to Sydney's Taronga Zoo until it is safe to return them to the wild.

"We are committed to caring for these important koalas to ensure some of this vital genetic diversity from the Blue Mountains can be preserved and that the future of this iconic species is secured," said the zoo's conservation society director Nick Boyle.

At least 3 million hectares of land burned this bush fire season, with huge swathes of the creature's habitat destroyed.

Dozens of koalas have been rescued in the past few months but hundreds more of the animals are feared to have died in the fires.

Three out of five areas that support "significant numbers of koalas" have been hit by bush fires in the Blue Mountains, conservation group Science for Wildlife said.

"These koalas are hard to find and catch, we wish could have saved more but we're glad we could rescue this group," Science for Wildlife director Kellie Leigh said.

The temperature is forecast to heat up this week on Australia's east coast, combining with increased gusts of winds to worsen fire conditions.