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Taree couple caring for 24 koalas

Paul and Christeen McLeod are sharing their home on the New South Wales mid-north coast with 24 koalas.

The couple has been running a welfare refuge for koalas in Taree since 1993 and have spent the past few days desperately trying to save as many of the marsupials as they can.

As ferocious bushfires raged through their local community, the McLeods began preparing a makeshift emergency room in anticipation of an influx of furry patients.

Many have arrived at their operation, Koalas In Care, suffering severe burns to their bodies, undergoing careful treatment by the couple that involves cleaning off soot and applying cream.

An adult male rescued in the wake of the Hillville fires on Sunday arrived at the couple’s home in a bad state.

“This poor fellow has been in the thick of it all,” Ms McLeod said.

“He’s severely burnt. His fur’s singed, all of his paws are burnt, his nose is burnt, his ears are burnt.

“At the moment we’ve got him lightly sedated. We’ve tended to his injures. Now it’s a wait-and-see if he responds to treatment. He’s got a long road in front of him.”

They’ve named him Sootie on account of his appearance when they met him. On Monday, his appetite returned – an encouraging sign – and he chomped down on some eucalyptus leaves from his laundry basket.

Another koala named Judy, also rescued from fires at Hillville on Sunday, largely escaped without serious burns but is facing another serious challenge.

“She’s been pretty fortunate in that she doesn’t seem to have suffered burns to her feet (but) her fur in singed in various places,” Ms McLeod said.

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Although, the koala is suffering from “wet bottom” – an extremely painful and potentially fatal condition that’s common in the marsupials.

“We’ll see how she fares over the coming days undergoing treatment for wet bottom and probably some smoke inhalation.”

A state of emergency has been declared in NSW, with 78 bushfires raging at present and large areas facing a “catastrophic” fire danger.

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Large volumes of natural koala habitat have been destroyed in recent days.

As many as 350 koalas are estimated to have died in fires that tore through the Port Macquarie region.

Rescuers reportedly managed to find 16 injured koalas in the area, which were taken to Port Macquarie’s Koala Hospital for treatment over the weekend.

Photos show koalas with burnt feet and hands, as well as burns and singeing to the body.

At the McLeods’ home, plastic laundry baskets fill the lounge room with recovering koalas resting in each.

The injured animals have come from across the region in the wake of devastating fires that Ms McLeod said had been unprecedented.

“I have lived in the Wingham-Taree area all my life & have never seen such an event unfold as it has over the past few days,” she said.

The animals – and the McLeods themselves – face a challenging few days ahead. The hope is that the koalas will recover and be able to return to the wild.

Although, the extent of the destruction of their natural habitat puts their futures even further in doubt.




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