Three koalas displaced and injured in Australia’s ongoing bush fires have been named after three American aerial fighters killed in an air-tanker crash in New South Wales last week.
Australian National University, which is housing and caring for 11 koalas from various fire grounds in the region, announced that it had named three Snowy Mountain koalas after Ian McBeth, Paul Hudson and Rick DeMorgan, Jr.
The koalas were found in the region where the three men died.
“We have 11 koalas at ANU that have come in from the various fire grounds in the region,” said Karen Ford, an ANU researcher and expert in koala nutrition. “They just keep arriving. There is nowhere else that has the facilities to hold these animals or this many at the moment. There are a couple with burn injuries and the rest have come from completely burnt habitat and they are quite skinny.”
Ford, who has been working with wildlife agencies in the region to receive the koalas, expects to keep them in expressly built koala pens for a few weeks, and hopes to release them to the wild soon.
Tens of thousands of koalas are feared dead in the bush fires that have raged across Australia since September.
Scientists estimate the fires claimed the lives of more than one billion animals, and koalas have been a particular focus of wildlife rescue efforts in the crisis, as they were already considered vulnerable to extinction due in part to their slow breeding curve.
This week officials declared a state of emergency in the Australian Capital Territory of about 400,000 people, describing it as the country’s worst bush fire threat since 2003.