Australian soldiers spend their downtime caring for koalas rescued from the bushfires

9th Brigade Australian Army care for rescued koalas (CBS News)

We all have 24 hours in a day, but some people spend their time better than others. Soldiers with the Australian Army have been using their downtime to help rescued koalas.

The soldiers from the Army’s 9th brigade have been cuddling koalas during their feeding time at Cleland Wildlife Park, near the city of Adelaide, according to a post on the brigade’s Facebook page. The koalas were transported there from Kangaroo Island, which was devastated by the bushfires that ravaged the continent in recent months.

“16 Regiment Emergency Support Force have been using their rest periods to lend a helping hand at the Cleland Wildlife Park,” the post said, “supporting our furry friends during feeding time and by building climbing mounts inside the park. A great morale boost for our hard working team in the Adelaide Hills.”

Kangaroo Island has been called “Noah’s Ark” because of its unique ecology, BBC News reports. However, there are now fears Kangaroo Island may never fully recover from the wildfires.

Sam Mitchell, who runs the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, said that as flames approached last month, most people evacuated — but his family couldn’t leave the animals behind.

“You can’t move 800 animals including water buffaloes, ostriches and cassowaries [an ostrich-like bird],” he told BBC News. “We decided that if we can’t move them we’ll see if we can save them. We had the army helping us. Somehow, we were spared. It burnt right around us.”

It is estimated that half of the 50,000 koalas on Kangaroo Island died in the fires. Many of those that survived were brought to the wildlife park, where a makeshift clinic was set up, BBC News reports.

Twenty-eight koalas from the island were then moved to Cleland Wildlife Park on the mainland. The park says they came from the western end of the island, “where most, if not all, of their habitat has been lost in the recent bushfires.”

At first the koalas were kept in quarantine, but now they are able to go into enclosures — and the army is helping with that, too. Soldiers helped build climbing structures for the koalas to use in their new home, as seen in their Facebook posts.

MP Vickie Chapman posted a video of the soldiers helping build the koalas’ enclosures.

The koalas from Kangaroo Island are special because they are free of chlamydia and have low rates of an infection called KORV, two diseases which plague many koalas in Australia, according to the National Parks and Wildlife Services of South Australia.

The group of koalas brought to Cleland will form part of a disease-free insurance population and will help researchers learn more about the diseases that usually affect koalas.

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