One of Australia's busiest wildlife hospitals on Saturday took its annual charity fundraiser online for the first time due to coronavirus restrictions, opening up the event to animal lovers around the world.
The Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, which is based on the Gold Coast in the northeastern state of Queensland, saw a roughly 20 percent increase in admissions following the devastating bushfires of 2019-2020.
However, after the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary -- a popular tourist attraction that the hospital is located within -- was forced to temporarily close in late March due to the pandemic, ongoing support from the community became even more important.
"Our admissions have really gone through the roof with animals clearly struggling out there in the wild. There isn't much food about," senior veterinarian Michael Pyne said in an interview during the live-streamed event.
"The devastating recent fires and the extended drought have had a huge impact on koalas, particularly in Queensland and New South Wales. Certainly in areas, the koalas are really on the road to becoming extinct," he said.
It is estimated that 1 billion animals were killed in the most recent bushfires, and with roughly 6.7 million hectares of habitat estimated to have been lost, Pyne said increased admissions to the hospital are expected for up to a year.
He noted a related problem stemming from animals fleeing from the fires becoming displaced from their home range, and in turn impacting the home range of the animals that are in bushland that was not burned.
"So the impacts of the fires really are long lasting and it upsets the whole balance of wildlife in those areas for six to 12 months beyond when the fires passed through," he said.
Pyne said 2019 was the busiest year on record at the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, with over 12,000 animals admitted.
The hospital relies largely on donations to care for the animals, with the treatment, rehabilitation and release of just one koala costing up to A$7,000 (about $4,570).
Included in the two-hour event were musical performances by Australian artists, a charity auction to win the naming rights to a baby koala, and a preview of a National Geographic documentary hosted Australian actor Chris Hemsworth and featuring koalas who had been treated at the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital.