Plea for New Zealand to house fire-threatened koalas

This handout photo taken on January 7, 2020, and received on January 8 from the Australian Department of Defence shows an orphaned baby koala being fed by Private Tyler Moseley-Greatwich from the 10th/27th Battalion, Royal South Australia Regiment, at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park in Kingscote. – Firefighters raced to quell massive bushfires in southeastern Australia on January 7, taking advantage of a brief drop in temperatures and some much-needed rainfall before another heatwave strikes later this week. (Photo by Tristan Kennedy / AUSTRALIAN DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE / AFP) 

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — Thousands of people have signed a petition for koalas to be introduced to New Zealand to escape Australia’s devastating bush fires, but the proposal has been given the thumbs down by officials.

A group calling itself the Koala Relocation Society said koalas were “functionally extinct in Australia” but could thrive in New Zealand which has nearly 30,000 hectares planted in eucalypts.

There have been estimates of up to a billion koalas and other animals affected by the fires raging across Australia and there are concerns about how the survivors will cope given the loss of vegetation.

As of midday Monday, the online petition had 7,500 signatures, but a spokesman for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Television New Zealand that the government’s focus was on helping to get the fires under control so koalas “can stay in their natural habitat”.

Wellington Zoo animal science manager Simon Eyre believed any assistance should be provided directly to the Australian authorities dealing with the fallout from the fires.

“For us, it would be assisting in Australia and it wouldn’t only be koalas, it would be other species affected by the fires as well,” he said.