Some baby koalas and kangaroos orphaned by Australian bushfires should be killed, officials say

Words by Michael Dahlstrom

A document advising first responders to kill baby koalas and kangaroos that survive the bushfires is causing distress among those working to save them. 

The Victorian Response Plan for Wildlife Impacted by Fire directs that the rehabilitation of orphaned “milk dependent joeys” from these “common species” found in the fire zone is not supported.

Contrary to established practice, the plan urges against handing the animals to wildlife volunteers, stating “these animals require significant long-term care and cannot be successfully returned to the wild.”

The government plan goes on to describe methods of euthanasia which include lethal injection, blunt forced trauma and shooting.

This is despite the same document also providing instructions on how to raise the milk dependent joeys. 

Victorian government guidelines suggest orphaned koalas should be euthanised. Source: Supplied / Getty

Across Australia many wildlife carers are successfully raising orphaned koalas and kangaroos, and are furious government staff and contractors entering fire-ravaged bushland are being told to shoot rather than rescue many joeys. 

‘If they’re found on the fire ground they’re shot’

The Koala Hospital Port Macquarie is successfully raising a milk dependent joey named Keli who was found on the side of the road with a fungal infection.

Most orphaned animals are raised on a product made by Wambaroo which manufactures early and late lactation milk products designed specifically for koalas and kangaroos. 

Rex Box Wildlife Shelter operator Nikki Medwell told Yahoo News Australia that it feels like the government are doing nothing to help native animals hit by the bushfires.

“Overabundant animals like macropods or koalas they don’t deem necessary to rescue,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter whether they’ve been burnt, if they’re found on the fire ground they’re shot.

“So that’s totally healthy, viable wildlife, including koalas which some are saying are on the brink of extinction.”

Milk dependent Keli was found on the side of the road suffering from fungal infection and is doing well in care. Source: Koala Hospital Port Macquarie

Number of animals euthanised unknown

The number of joeys euthanised was yet unknown.

A Victorian Department of Environment (DELWP) spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia the Response Plan guidelines remain open to interpretation.

DELWP said milk dependent joeys without fur, eyes closed, and ears down should be euthanised, but those with fur are assessed on a case by case basis.

A spokesperson issued a short statement highlighting that decisions are circumstantial. 

“A range of factors shape whether injured wildlife should be rehabilitated or euthanised,” the statement said.

“This includes the duration of the rehabilitation period... The sooner wildlife can be rehabilitated and released, the greater their chance of survival.”

Two joeys suckle from bottles in Nikki Medwell's care. Source: Supplied

Wildlife carers who have worked within fire zones have told Yahoo News Australia that the DELWP requires detailed records to be kept on euthanasia and rescues. 

The DELWP spokesperson indicated that while records have been collected, they have not yet collated figures from the current fire season.

They were unable to provide figures for any previous fire seasons, just that approximately 1000 animals were assessed during the 2018-19 season.