WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
Twitter is in tears after a video of a woman rescuing a badly burnt and wailing koala from a NSW bushfire went viral.
The marsupial was spotted crossing a road amongst the flames near Long Flat, 49 kilometres west of Port Macquarie.
A local woman, who told Nine News her name was Toni, rushed to the koala’s aid, wrapping the animal in her shirt and pouring water over it.
Toni said she would transport the injured koala to the nearby Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, a facility that is treating up to 15 affected koalas.
The country’s koala population has been a major victim of the flames, with more than 350 of the marsupials feared killed in a major habitat. Warmer weather brought by climate change threatens to worsen conditions for koalas, as deforestation has narrowed habitable areas, said James Tremain of the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales.
“Devastating bushfires are going to knock out some of these key population centres, but so will increasing temperatures,” he said, by affecting the nutrition value of the leaves that are the animals’ sole food source.
In Queensland, a Cattle Dog cross-breed named Bear, has been trained to find and save koalas injured in Australia’s recent devastating bushfires. Bear is also able to locate quolls and other small Australian marsupials in the wild.
Bear has found dozens of koalas in need and for research purposes so far this year, but is yet to find any since starting his bushfire deployment earlier this month.
Population estimates for koalas, native to Australia, vary widely, from as few as 50,000 to little more than 100,000.
They dwell mostly in eucalypt forests in eastern states and on the coastal fringes, usually living up to 20 years, carrying their young in a pouch and sleeping for up to 18 hours a day.
Temperatures are set to soar this week, worsening conditions in bushfire-ravaged New South Wales and Queensland. The Bureau of Meteorology warned people to ‘have a plan to beat the heat.’
The fires have already claimed six lives and destroyed more than 303 homes this bushfire season.
On Wednesday 54 fires continued to burn across NSW with 22 blazes yet to be contained, said the NSW Rural Fire Service
More than 1000 firefighters are still out on the fireground and are being supported by more than 90 aircraft.
The current bushfire crisis has mostly been contained to the east coast of NSW and Queensland states, but officials in South Australia warned on Tuesday that forecast near-record temperatures raises the risks in that state.
James Redmayne contributed to this report.