Animals Asia sends Veterinary Nurse Kat Donald to help struggling Australian wildlife impacted by recent catastrophic bushfires.

29 January 2020


Like so many around the world we have been deeply affected by the bushfire crisis in Australia. The fires which have been burning since September have torched more than 15.6 million acres of land, leaving over 1,400 homes destroyed. And, according to one biodiversity expert’s count, an estimated 1 billion animals have perished in these fires which have been exacerbated by climate change. And because Australian supporters have always been so generous to Animals Asia, we felt an absolute need to return that incredible support in Australia's time of need. Our response has been not to directly fundraise for the bushfire victims or wildlife victims in Australia, but rather because of these exceptional circumstances, to provide veterinary support from our highly experienced team wherever we can.

Our Vet & Nurse teams at both our Rescue Centres in China & Vietnam have been in communication with local wildlife rescue organisations with the wish to help in any way we can. This has now resulted in Kat Donald, one of our Vet Nurses from our Bear Rescue Centre in Vietnam, currently being placed on secondment in the Mallacoota Wildlife Triage station with Zoos Victoria helping to care for the koala population that has been so badly affected. And as the wildlife crisis will not be short lived, we are in continuing discussions with local wildlife groups as to how we may be able to help further in the coming months.

Koalas being cared for by Zoos Victoria

We are not asking for contributions at all for the bushfires - as always your donations will be used to care for our our beautiful bears and the welfare of other animals across Asia. But we could not stand idly by in Australia’s time of need.

Burnt koala paws

Vet Nurse Kat Donald, who originally hails from Australia, said:

“The teams here have been amazing and the work going on from emergency services, locals and the Zoos Victoria team is so impressive. The centre I’m based at in Mallacoota has a steady rate of incoming patients but nowhere near the level it was during the initial aftermath of the fire crisis.”

Koala facts:

  • These magnificent mammals get their name from the indigenous Australian Aboriginal term meaning, ‘no drink’. It’s believed this is because koalas get almost all their moisture from the leaves they eat, and rarely drink water. 

  • Koalas spend approximately 18-20 hours of each day resting or asleep, one to three hours spent feeding and the remaining time spent moving between branches or trees, grooming or in social behaviour.  

  • Feeding episodes normally last from 20 minutes to two hours in duration with four to six of these bouts per day. Feeding can occur at any time of the day or night, however there is a tendency for koalas to feed immediately before or after dusk or dawn. 

  • Koalas generally rest and sleep in the forks of trees, but are occasionally found stretched along a branch. Changes in posture have an important role in temperature regulation.  

  • The vocalisations of koalas are diverse. Calls include the bellow, which may be used by the males to attract mates in sparse populations and as a warning to other koalas in the area. Other vocalisations include repeated squeaks of joeys that may serve to attract the mother's attention. The wails, squawk, low grunt, snarls and screams of females probably serve as a defensive threat. 

  • To ensure that the koalas are kept in good physical condition it is important to ensure that the diet is varied and of high quality. A koala typically eats between 400 - 1000g (approximately 10% of its body weight) of eucalypts per day.  

  • Winter is considered the time of greatest nutritional stress on koalas as at this time there are very few, if any, new growth available, with most of the leaves being quite fibrous. It is important at this time to supply as wide a choice of species available as possible.  

Animals Asia’s Bear & Vet Team Director Vietnam Heidi Quine also comes from Australia and has some experience looking after koalas: 

“Koala’s can be quite fussy eaters. Not just any eucalyptus leaf will do. Even if given the right species of eucalyptus, the koalas always greatly preferred all the young, new growth leaves (as opposed to the older, leathery established leaves). I always thought that was pretty fascinating… and it makes me think how it must be all the harder for Kat and the teams out there to source enough food for the vulnerable koalas they are caring for when so many of the eucalyptus trees have been razed. We’re sending all of our support and thanks to Kat and everyone who’s doing their bit to help during this monumental tragedy.” 

Though often called the koala “bear,” this cuddly animal is not a bear at all; it is a marsupial, or pouched mammal. After giving birth, a female koala carries her baby in her pouch for about six months. In their time of need we like to think about these koalas as honorary bears, in the capable and caring hands of Kat (moon and sun bear vet nurse extraordinaire) and the dedicated teams on the ground.

Joey and mother

Kat is still on the scene at the emergency triage clinic where the condition of the animals is assessed and initial treatments are dispensed. She added:

“We’re looking forward to seeing who we can get out into habitat that isn’t affected, but at this stage it is definitely a big job to find suitable habitat to help these animals survive in the long term. We are still expecting 17 hour days and this triage station is still very busy. We’ll keep you updated as we go along. I’m looking forward to getting back to our beautiful bears at home. I feel really privileged to have been a part of this brilliant team especially knowing that all the compassionate Animals Asia supporters around the world are getting behind these efforts to protect Australian wildlife!”