March 19, 2009 / 6:30 AM / in 8 years

Wildlife centre heals survivors of Australia fires

<p>An anaesthetised eastern grey kangaroo named "Jilly", injured by the recent bushfires, has her wounds treated at Healesville Animal Sanctuary in Melbourne, March 19, 2009.Mick Tsikas</p>

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - The rescue of Sam the koala gave Australians hope during the devastating bushfires, and one of the nation's most well-known wildlife sanctuaries is working hard to ensure she's not the only survival story.

More than 200 people died, and thousands were left homeless after last month's fires, Australia's worst natural disaster, ravaged an large swathe of Victoria state.

Millions of wildlife, including kangaroos, lyre birds, echidnas and koalas, also perished and thousands injured, and the Healesville Sanctuary, one of the biggest and closest to the affected area, is helping heal the wounds of those survivors.

"The lyre birds are coming with burns to their eyes and seared feathers, wombats are coming in with burned feet while echidnas are showing burned backs as they burrowed into the ground," veterinary surgeon Che Phillips told Reuters, adding that the fires came within 300 meters of the sanctuary.

Sam the koala, who was badly burned, was saved by a local firefighter and taken to another wildlife shelter, and images of the rescue captured hearts in Australia and around the world.

Among Healesville's own poignant stories is that of Jilly, a 10-month-old baby kangaroo who arrived almost a week ago suffering from badly burned hind footpads and burns to her forepaws from bouncing through the bush.

<p>An anaesthetised eastern grey kangaroo named "Jilly", injured during the recent bushfires, has her wounds treated at Healesville Sanctuary in Melbourne, March 19, 2009.Mick Tsikas</p>

Phillips said the orphaned animal had also shown signs of severe dehydration and weight loss after losing her mother in the fires. She is currently being bottle fed by her carer and is surviving in an artificial pouch.

"Jilly is recovering well, she should be able to take the bandages off in about two weeks and then we have to look where she came from, what her habitat is like and whether she can be released back," Phillips added.

Slideshow (5 Images)

Rupert Baker, a senior vet at the sanctuary, estimates the number of animals that have gone into care following the bushfires at several thousand.

"About 40 percent of animals that have gone through the centers have had to be euthanized because their injuries were so bad we couldn't release them," Baker said.

He estimated that millions of animals would have been burned and probably died as the 450,000 hectares of land were scorched, adding that it will be about six months or more before the sanctuary can start releasing animals back to the wild.

"I was speaking to a botanist today and she said it will take a couple of hundred years for the bush to be regenerated to what it was before the fires," he said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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