Koala keepers back from bushfire mission

TWO of Longleat’s koala keepers have returned from a support mission to help with the wildlife emergency following the devastating Australian bushfires.

During their two-week trip specialist koala keepers Graeme Dick and James Dennis helped rescue koalas, travelled to Kangaroo Island to monitor and treat surviving populations, assisted with work at Minton Farm Rescue and looked after koala burn victims at Cleland Wildlife Park.

Longleat is the only zoological collection in Europe to look after southern koalas, and is part of a long-term partnership with the South Australia Government and Cleland Wildlife Park, in the Adelaide Hills, to support research and conservation programmes for wild koalas.

Graeme and James flew out after South Australian partners confirmed that additional experienced, hands-on practical help would be beneficial given the scale of the situation. They were flown out free of charge by Singapore Airlines, who are official supporters of the Longleat and International Koala Centre of Excellence (IKCE) partnership.

Chris Daniel, director of Cleland Wildlife Park, says: “We were very pleased to have both Graeme and James come out and help us with the recovery process. They have been actively involved in a range of activities to rescue and rehabilitate koalas, wombats, echidnas and other wildlife.”

It was “a hugely emotional experience,” said Graeme, “but to have the opportunity to lend a hand and put the skills we have learned into practice has been incredible. The teams on the ground have lived through an absolute nightmare and now, with the fires finally dying out, the challenge is to start re-growing the eucalyptus tree, to get the affected areas re-wilded and to put all our efforts into keeping the surviving populations safe and healthy so they can begin to recover.”

In addition to practical help and support with the rescue programme, Longleat has donated AUS$ 25,000 to help fund work being undertaken by SAVEM (South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management), Minton Farm Rescue and Manfred Heide Wombat Rescue.

Longleat also set up a Justgiving page to assist with the recovery programme and to date it has raised more than £12,000.

Graeme says: “The public response to the appeal has been simply astonishing and we cannot express how grateful both we and our colleagues out in Australia are. The situation remains extremely serious but absolutely every penny people have donated is going direct to the teams on the ground and it’s having a massively beneficial effect.

“It is quite literally saving the lives of koalas, wombats, echidnas and a host of other unique Australian wildlife.”

Pictured: Graeme Dick on Kangaroo Island; Graeme with one of the rescued koalas at Cleland Park; James Dennis at Minton Farm; James helps feeding rescued koalas.