Sam Mitchell, owner of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park comforts a koala joey (Picture: Getty)

Koalas are being released back into the wild on a precious nature reserve in Australia.

Kangaroo Island is often described as Australia’s Galapagos Islands and has long been a refuge for some of the country’s most endangered creatures. But devastating wildfires reversed decades of careful conservation work, killing tens of thousands of native animals and 90% of its koala population.

Only 5,000 koalas are now left from an original population of about 60,000 before the fires, which killed a father and son and left behind a scorched wasteland. Located off the coast of South Australia state, Kangaroo Island is about 50% larger than Rhode Island and home to 4,500 people and what was a thriving ecotourism industry.

Sam Mitchell, owner of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, said they had to were not prepared for the destruction. In a Facebook video, he said: ‘We had to make it up on the spot. We had vet teams operating from a small shed, a café and even our barbecue area.’

Sam Mitchell, owner of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park releases a koala affected by the recent bushfires back into native bushland (Picture: Getty)
Sam Mitchell’s son Connor checks on a koala about to be released (Picture: Getty)
Laura Clifton, a koala keeper from Australia Zoo releases a koala back into bushland (Picture: Getty)
A koala checks his surroundings after being released (Picture: Getty)

Sam’s team of vets, experts and volunteers from around the world, have treated 600 animals since the fires started two months ago, 95% being koalas.

The rescued koalas have been housed in temporary enclosures, and some of them are now starting to be released back into their native bushland.

Sam said: ‘We’ve been releasing over the past week. We’ve released over 50 koalas now.

‘Over the next week coming hopefully we can get somewhere between three to five koalas out every day.’

But Sam said they are now encountering a disturbing new development as the koalas that survived the fires are running out of their main source of food – leaves from eucalyptus trees.

Medics have treated 600 animals on Kangaroo Island since the fires, 95% being koalas (Picture: Getty)
Only 10,000 koalas remain in the area from an original population of about 60,000 (Picture: Getty)
RAAF medic Yvonne Dennett feeds a koala joey (Picture: Getty)
Dana Mitchell feeds a koala joey (Picture: Getty)
Sam and Dana Mitchell treat a koala joey affected by the recent bushfires (Picture: Getty)

He said: ‘Now we’re finding animals that survived the fires but have run out of food.

‘We’re working round the clock to move them before they die of starvation.’

Koalas were among the hardest hit of Australia’s native animals during the wildfires, because they are slow moving and only eat eucalyptus leaves, which are filled with oil, making them highly flammable.

The marsupials were even declared ‘functionally extinct’ and their future is looking increasingly bleak.

In New South Wales alone, it was estimated 8,000 – 30% of the population – were killed in the wildfires.

‘Curly’ the shearer is seen handling a sheep at Meadowlea Sheep Station on February 25, 2020 in Kangaroo Island (Picture: Getty)
Sam Mitchell is joined by Laura Clifton and Penny Lenehan Hawser from Australia Zoo for a koala release (Picture: Getty)
Signs of regrowth are seen amongst the bushfire affected blue gum forestry west of Parndana (Picture: Getty)
A male koala affected by the recent bushfires receives treatment (Picture: Getty)
A kangaroo is seen at the bushfire damaged nature reserve (Picture: Getty)

Kangaroo Island’s economy is reliant on agriculture and tourism worth an estimated 180 million dollars and focus is now turning to reviving the industries post the bushfires.

The South Australian Tourism Commission launched the #BookThemOut campaign to encourage tourists to visit the bushfire affected areas in the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island, with the recent Kangaroo Cup Racing Carnival reaching record attendance this past weekend.

However, with the Island known to be a popular tourism destination for Chinese tourists the local industry is now also being heavily affected by coronavirus.

The Federal Government has announced a royal commission into this summer’s devastating bushfires across Australia, with a specific focus on preparedness for future bushfire seasons.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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