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Viral Video Shows Woman Rescuing Koala From Australian Bushfires
More than 350 koalas may have died in the wildfires raging near the Australian town of Port Macquarie in New South Wales, but one got a chance at survival after a woman risked her life to carry him to safety.
In a video shared by Nine News Australia Tuesday, the koala was shown walking towards the flames when a woman wrapped him in the shirt off her back and doused him with water from a bottle handed to her by another good Samaritan.
"He just went straight into the flames, and I just jumped out of the car and went straight to him," the rescuer, Toni Doherty, told 9News.
Doherty named the koala Lewis, after one of her grandchildren, and took him to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.
Doherty reunited with Lewis at the hospital Wednesday and congratulated him on his recovery so far. But the hospital said he is not out of the woods yet.
"He is probably 50-50 at this stage," a spokesperson from the hospital told 9news.com.au. "His feet are completely burnt and he has burns to his chest and stomach. He has been bandaged and given antibiotics but will take a lot of looking after, if he pulls through."
Lewis is one of at least 31 koalas that have been brought to the hospital for treatment in an Australian bushfire season that has killed six people and destroyed hundreds of homes so far, CBS news reported.
The hospital even started a GoFundMe to help it care for the fire-stricken koalas that soared past its $25,000 goal to earn more than $900,000 as of Wednesday.
"In what is a national tragedy, the bushfires in and around Port Macquarie in November, devastated a genetically diverse koala population. As many as 350 koalas have perished with approximately 75% of the fireground footprint being prime koala habitat," the hospital wrote in its appeal.
It originally intended to use the funds to set up automatic drinking stations in the burned areas to help koalas and other wildlife. Because of the success of the fundraiser, the hospital will now install more drinking stations and share them with other organizations in fire-affected areas in New South Wales. It will also buy vehicles that can both fight fires and bring water to replenish the stations as needed. Further, it will establish a wild koala breeding program.
There are around 50,000 to 100,000 koalas in Australia, depending on the estimate, according to Euronews. The Australian Koala Foundation said in May that there were only 80,000 left, making them "functionally extinct." They live mostly in eucalyptus forests in Eastern Australia and on the coasts, Euronews explained. Australia's East Coast is also where the bushfires have ignited this Australian spring. The fire season has started early in Queensland and New South Wales this year because of drought and high temperatures.
CBS News weather contributor Jeff Berardelli linked the fires to the climate crisis, as rising temperatures dry out vegetation, providing more fuel for fires.
"The trend is often towards greater moisture deficits in the atmosphere. Combined drier ground and relatively drier air leads to fires that grow faster and burn longer," he explained.
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Poverty and violence in Central America are major factors driving migration to the United States. But there's another force that's often overlooked: climate change.
Retired Lt. Cmdr. Oliver Leighton Barrett is with the Center for Climate and Security. He says that in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, crime and poor economic conditions have long led to instability.
"And when you combine that with protracted drought," he says, "it's just a stressor that makes everything worse."
Barrett says that with crops failing, many people have fled their homes.
"These folks are leaving not because they're opportunists," he says, "but because they are in survival mode. You have people that are legitimate refugees."
So Barrett supports allocating foreign aid to programs that help people in drought-ridden areas adapt to climate change.
"There are nonprofits that are operating in those countries that have great ideas in terms of teaching farmers to use the land better, to harvest water better, to use different variety of crops that are more resilient to drought conditions," he says. "Those are the kinds of programs I think are needed."
So he says the best way to reduce the number of climate change migrants is to help people thrive in their home countries.
Reporting credit: Deborah Jian Lee / ChavoBart Digital Media.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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