Bouncing back from bushfire: koala Jeremy's year of living dangerously

Three-year-old Jeremy suffered second-degree burns in the Adelaide Hills bushfires, was hit by a car and attacked by a dog – but he lives to fight another day

You’d struggle to think of a more pathetic figure – a koala on an operating table, eyes closed and face-down in a scratchy towel, four paws immersed in containers of sodium chloride.

Jeremy the koala became a figurehead for the victims of the Adelaide Hills bushfires in early January after a photo of him receiving treatment for dehydration and second-degree burns went viral.

Slow-moving koalas were among the victims of the bushfires that raged through South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales last summer, prompting the International Fund for Animal Welfare to appeal for donations of cotton mittens to protect their scalded paws.

Three-year-old Jeremy – named after Country Fire Service volunteer Jeremy Sparrow, who rescued him – was in a perilous state when he was found on Tilmouth Road in Paracombe, South Australia, weighing just 10.8kg.

He was released into the wild in late January, following three weeks’ treatment at the Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organisation clinic at Torrens Island, during which he gained nearly a kilogram.

The organisation’s president, Aaron Machado, describing the koala’s appetite, said Jeremy would “absolutely smash his leaf every night”.

As though second-degree burns and internet infamy weren’t trauma enough for one year, Jeremy was struck by a car and attacked by a dog in late August.

A local landholder reported seeing a very large, injured male koala and an examination of his ear tag at Greencross Vets in Paradise revealed it to be Jeremy.

Adelaide Hills bushfire
A small fire burns after a bushfire moved through the area near One Tree Hill in the Adelaide Hills on January 5, 2015. Photograph: Brenton Edwards/AFP/Getty Images

He had travelled about four kilometres from where he was released in January, weighed an enormous 12kg, and – aside from severe bruising from the car and a few puncture wounds from the dog – was in excellent condition.

He underwent surgery and spent 10 days in care before being rereleased.

Kim Thompson of Fauna Rescue of South Australia said koalas in South Australia faced such challenges daily, but were particularly vulnerable during the spring and summer when they were actively pursuing mates.

It is unclear how Jeremy has fared on the dating scene. Thompson said koalas were solitary animals who came together specifically to mate.

“Unless we saw them in the tree, we wouldn’t really know,” he said.

“I’m sure that being such a robust and handsome boy, he wouldn’t have any trouble in that department. That’s my opinion, anyway.”

Thompson said Jeremy had often been spotted in the Houghton area after his initial release.

“When he was first released, we were able to see him on a regular basis – all of the locals would say, ‘Oh, we’ve seen Jeremy’, and send me photos. But then we actually lost touch with him.”

He said Jeremy’s journey demonstrated the strong working relationship between the local community and various not-for-profit organisations that work to assist native wildlife.

Machado said stints in and out of care such as those that have dominated Jeremy’s year were part of the realities of being a koala.

“It’s unfortunate, but that’s his life, I guess,” he said.

• If you need assistance with a native animal in Australia call Native Animal Rescue on 08 9249 3434


Elle Hunt

The GuardianTramp

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