An online fundraiser set up for koalas injured in the devastating Australian bushfires has raised more than $1 million Australian dollars ($680,000) towards the rescue and rehabilitation of the animals.
The campaign, launched by Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in New South Wales in late October, had an initial fundraising goal of $25,000 AUD, but by Nov. 21 it had topped the $1 million mark from over 25,000 donors, making it Australia’s largest GoFundMe campaign of the year.
In a message on the fundraising platform, its organizer said the hospital has been “overwhelmed” by the support shown, and that it would use the extra money to establish a “wild koala breeding program.”
The New South Wales hospital said it had rescued 31 koalas from the fire grounds. Once rescued, a koala is rehydrated, examined and treated for burns, and bandaged. The dressings are changed every three days.
The hospital said its aim is to create new water drinking stations in affected regions for the koalas in need.
“Initially, the hospital’s aim was to raise money to purchase and distribute automatic drinking stations which will be installed in the burnt areas to help in koala and wildlife survival,” the message read.
“The number of drinking stations being built has now been increased and they will be shared with other wildlife organizations in fire affected regions across New South Wales. Two are being built for dispatch to the northern rivers fire area next week,” the campaign states.
According to the hospital, as many as 350 koalas have been killed by the bushfires raging in New South Wales and Queensland, with around 75 percent of “fireground footprint” being prime koala habitat.
“Some of the funds raised through the Go Fund Me site will be directed to building a ‘Koala Ark’, a facility to allow the surviving koalas to be accommodated in a healthy habitat area,” the hospital wrote. “Hopefully, these koalas will breed and a new population of koalas will be established for return to the wild.”
The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital normally treats between 200 and 250 koalas each year, according to ABC.
Donations surged after a grandmother rescued a badly burned koala from the bushfires using her shirt.
— Reuters (@Reuters) November 20, 2019
Toni Doherty ran towards the koala near Port Macquarie, New South Wales when she saw it needed her help.
“It was terrifying to see him just come out of the flames and he looked so defenseless running along the road,” she told CNN affiliate 9News.
“I knew I needed to put something around him as I ran to the tree, so I just took off my shirt and covered him with it. I just tried to get him out of the fire, it was so hot and so frightening.”
The male koala was brought to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital and named “Ellenborough Lewis” after Doherty’s grandchild.
“Lewis is now receiving round the clock care by one of our long term home care volunteers and Hospital supervisor, Barb. Barb hand feeds Lewis a single leaf at a time, with feeding taking up to an hour a feed,” the campaign states. “Lewis’s prognosis is guarded as he sustained significant burns however he is receiving the best possible care.”
“All at the Koala Hospital want to thank each and everyone of you who have donated. Your kind donations make a massive difference in helping us to continue to look after these amazing creatures.”
New South Wales saw its worst levels of air pollution recorded over the past week caused by smoke from the widespread bushfires, as 55 bush and grass fires continued to burn across the state after two weeks.
The bushfires have pushed Sydney into a rare appearance this week in the top ten cities with the worst air pollution in the world. Having reached as high as No. 8, Sydney was sitting at No. 10 on the Air Visual global rankings on Friday morning, above Jakarta and Shenzhen, and just below Mumbai and Kolkata.
Reuters contributed to this report.