Koalas Rescued During Bushfire Finally Return to Their Natural Habitat in Victoria

Koalas Rescued During Bushfire Finally Return to Their Natural Habitat in Victoria
An as yet unnamed seven month-old Northern Koala joey clings to his mother Tara after emerging from her pouch at Sydney Wildlife World July 31, 2007 in Sydney, Australia. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Koalas rescued during last summer's devastating Victorian bushfires have returned to their natural habitat.

The 14 koalas, injured in the East Gippsland bushfires in January, have been treated at Healesville Sanctuary and Melbourne Zoo, mainly for burns.

They spent the last months of their recovery "rewilding" by building up their strength, fitness and climbing abilities in large enclosures at Healesville Sanctuary and Phillip Island Nature Parks.

Over the past month, the koalas have been released into bushland at sites in East Gippsland, close to where they were originally found.

A final group of eight were released at the weekend in regenerated bushland around Mallacoota.

Zoos Victoria Senior Veterinarian Leanne Wicker said it was special to see the koalas finally return to the wild.

"I will never forget the injuries and trauma that first confronted us in the wildlife triage units in January," Wicker said in a statement on Dec. 7.

"Sadly, there were many animals that we couldn't save, but we gave our all to treat the badly burnt paws, noses and ears while monitoring for internal injuries."

Wicker said each koala has been fitted with a tracking device on a collar so specialised animal health and science teams can monitor their progress over the coming months.

"It has been a huge undertaking and responsibility for all involved to slowly rehabilitate these koalas, and a real privilege to now be able to bring them back to their homes where they can complete their recovery as the project team continues to monitor them," she said.

It is estimated that more than three billion animals were injured or killed in Australian bushfires last summer.