What do koalas eat after a bush fire?

Usually, if a koala has survived the fire, it is because their tree survived the fire and shielded them. Koalas probably go into the thickest, leafiest tree they can find as a fire approaches. Those trees tend to slow the fire, and protect the wildlife within them.

The koala will eat the leaf of that tree, and any others that survived, for the next 4-5 weeks until the new growth appears. The leaves might be a bit dry, but they still seem to provide some nutrition. Their biggest problem is thirst.

koala after fire in burnt tree
mature female koala “Ingrid” four months after the fire.  She survived without any human interference.

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If they stay in that tree they might not be burnt at all.

Mature female koala “Ingrid” survived the 2006 intense Brisbane Ranges fire. She was never captured, partly because she was always too high in the tree.  We worried about her, but over weeks of monitoring we saw no sign of injury, burns or malnutrition.

Ingrid survived until at least August 2007, 17 months after the fire, with no help from humans.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ingrid about to eat epicormic growth on a Manna Gum

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If a koala changes trees soon after the fire, they might get burnt hands and feet and might need medical attention.

Mature male “Bear” survived the fire in a large Cherry Ballart Exocarpos cupressiformis. He must have changed trees within a day or two of the fire (as he needed to – koalas can’t eat Cherry Ballart) and he was found with 2nd degree burns to hands and feet.  He was taken into care, his wounds treated, then released about 3 weeks after the fire.

He lived at least until March 2007, 14 months after the fire, when he left his home range.

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male koala Bear 13 months after the fire

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These bushfires are not the end for all our koalas.  It has set them back, but its not over.  Decisive, science-based action, taken soon, will ensure that they have a future.

 

Read what you can do to help koalas here. 

 

 

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