News Release

New findings reveal koalas’ health risks following bushfires, will aid in future rescue efforts

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Morris Animal Foundation

Student Evie Dunstan works on research about the Kangaroo Island bushfire


Evie Dunstan assists with a project, which analyzed data from the Kangaroo Island bushfire. 

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Credit: Natasha Speight

DENVER/Jan. 9, 2024 – A new scientific publication featured in Veterinary Sciences will guide future wildlife rescue and rehabilitation after Australian bushfires. These findings provide critical information for improving koala care during subsequent fire seasons.

Natasha Speight, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, spearheaded the study, analyzing clinical data from koalas affected by the recent Australian bushfires. Beyond generalized skin burns, the study revealed severe footpad burns, hindering koalas’ tree-climbing abilities and escape from fires. The study also reported on lung damage due to smoke inhalation.

“By understanding the extent of the burns of the skin in the footpads as well as furred regions of the body, koalas can be assessed for their likelihood for rehabilitation and release, or if the prognosis is poor,” Speight said. “Compounding the effect of burns on the health of the koalas, a high likelihood of lung damage due to smoke inhalation has also been found by this study, and this is an important additional consideration for veterinarians triaging rescued koalas.”

The $54,757 grant from Morris Animal Foundation facilitated data collation from comprehensive health assessments of koalas, sample analysis, statistical analysis and extensive collaboration with wildlife rescue groups and veterinarians. These findings significantly advance understanding of the impacts of bushfires on wildlife, which is crucial for future planning and care coordination.

“These resources can then be used by the government, wildlife carers and veterinarians to assess the prognosis for koalas that have injuries due to bushfires, as well as aid coordination of bushfire response efforts,” Speight added.

About Morris Animal Foundation
Morris Animal Foundation’s mission is to bridge science and resources to advance the health of animals. Founded in 1948 and headquartered in Denver, it is one of the largest nonprofit animal health research organizations in the world, funding nearly $160 million in more than 3,000 critical animal health studies to date across a broad range of species. Learn more at

Media Contact: Annie Mehl

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