Animal rescue shelters are being inundated with a menagerie of native wildlife, with fears local koala populations have been obliterated as deadly bushfires continue to tear across NSW.
The fires, which have destroyed more than 1 million hectares of bushland and razed hundreds of homes, have also killed or displaced countless animals along the Mid North Coast.
Birds, possums, turtles, kangaroos and dozens of koalas have been dropped off at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in recent days. Hospital team leader Gabi Rivett said she had never experienced such a high volume of injured wildlife.
While some koalas are found relatively unscathed but now homeless, others are rushed to the centre with severe burns.
"They're just a harmless little creature that does nothing wrong and has had so many problems with habitat loss and now the fires, it's a huge dilemma," Ms Rivett said.
Dozens of koalas are now spread across the centre, including more than 10 in the clinic's intensive care ward.
"It's quite an emotional experience to go through," she said, adding that a young female koala had recently died. "The shock and the trauma of it, she couldn't handle it, we've just lost her."
On Saturday afternoon, the hospital was expecting another four koalas to arrive from Taree Koalas in Care, which has been inundated with wildlife since the fires began.
Koalas in Care manager Christeen McLeod said she feared the fires could have a long term impact on the population.
"In our opinion, it's going to be catastrophic for our population," she said. "We will lose more, the fire was [just] the beginning of it."
The animals are either picked up by the hospital's scouting teams, which are driving through charred bushland scouring for survivors, or brought into the centre by members of the public.
From there, healthy koalas are placed in a secure enclosure to recuperate, while those suffering burns are treated by the hospital staff, who apply burn creams and bandages, which need to be changed every few days when the animal is mildly sedated.
The koalas are then placed in a laundry basket filled with towels to support them, and kept in a room with two or three others. At the centre of the room staff place eucalyptus branches for food and some sense of shelter and comfort.
"If they are hungry they can reach the leaves with their mouths, so if their hands are bandaged they can still eat," Ms Rivett said.
An online fundraiser for the hospital had received close to $700,000 on Saturday afternoon from donors across Australia and the world.
"The amount of donations coming in from far and wide is just overwhelming, we're so so appreciative," Ms Rivett said.
Despite their cute appearance, Ms Rivett said a koala wouldn't usually tolerate being handled by a human - but given the state of their injuries, they were largely cooperative.
"A normal koala wouldn't let you do this to them, there'd be a lot of scratching biting, but at the moment they're in a lot of pain so they'll allow it," she said. "Its very stressful and traumatic for them, they're a solitary animal."
The koala hospital estimates that more than 350 local koalas will have died in the recent bushfires, which have been burning inland from Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour.
While some are able to escape the flames, other koalas climb to the top of their eucalyptus tree for safety as the fire closes in.
"It's horrific seeing them, you've got to stay strong," Mr Rivett said.
- SMH/The Age