TAMPA, Fla. -- The estimates for loss of wildlife impacted by the fires burning across Australia are hard to believe. Half a billion animals were killed or injured — the iconic koala being one of the hardest hit.
The images of starving, dehydrated and severely burned koalas are everywhere. More than 8,000 koalas, roughly a third of the population in New South Wales, have been killed.
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"We are at a really critical point in our history of how we deal with animals in our changing habitats and climates," Lee Ann Rottman, the Vice President of Conservation at ZooTampa said. "And, you know, to see what's going over in Australia, I think it's a scary time. And, we all have to work together to provide support for Australia and other countries."
Rottman said ZooTampa is sending funds to Australia for the rescue effort, and hope that the public who visit ZooTampa and see their koalas will donate as well.
"They are very endearing if you look at our little baby over there. You can't help but want to help the species on a more global front," Rottman said.
As fires race across Australia, many koalas can't escape the flames. They sleep 20 hours a day, and many wake up to their homes on fire.
"A kangaroo and a wallaby they can run pretty fast, and a koala is a slow-moving species," Rottman said. "They sleep a lot cause it takes a lot to digest the eucalyptus they eat. So again they are sleeping. It's not something they are just going to jump up and run quickly from anything."
Last year, ZooTampa welcomed the first koala baby ever born at the zoo. The koala was born as part of the zoo's effort to conserve the koala through the Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
The birth of one joey now means more than ever. Sydney will be sent to another zoo and, hopefully, one day become a father.
According to the World Wildlife Fund Australia, koala habitats in New South Wales were already in danger due to deforestation. By their estimates, koalas in NSW could be extinct by 2050.
"We want to do everything we can to support the rescue efforts and recovery efforts this species and other species as well," Rottman said.
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