Koala
One of the koalas that was returned to its home in the Blue Mountains of Australia after being rescued from approaching bushfires in January. Photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo Global.

A group of koalas rescued from Australian bushfires two month ago are returning to their home in the Blue Mountains, San Diego Zoo Global said Monday.

They have been rehabilitating at the Toranga Zoo in Sydney since being evacuated from an area being devastated by fire. Now that it’s safe for them to go home, they are being reintroduced to the eucalyptus forest by Science for Wildlife, with the support of San Diego Zoo Global.

“While they have coped well in care, we are delighted to finally send our koalas home,” said Kellie Leigh, Ph.D., executive director of Science for Wildlife. “We have been busy assessing the burnt area that we rescued them from, to establish when the conditions have improved enough that the trees can support them again. The recent rains have helped, and there is now plenty of new growth for them to eat, so the time is right. We will be radio-tracking them and keeping a close eye on them to make sure that they settle in OK.”

The research team discovered that the Blue Mountains World Heritage region is home to the most genetically diverse population of koalas in the world, making the marsupials’ return key to ensuring their future.

The reintroduction of these koalas is just the next stage in what conservationists know will be a long-term effort to recover koala populations in the area.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,to assess what is left of koalas in this region and plan for population recovery,” said Jen Tobey, Population Sustainability researcher, San Diego Zoo Global. “We are dedicated to continuing to support this critical work to conserve a significant koala population.”

— Staff report