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Hundreds of koalas burned alive in blazing bushfire declared 'national tragedy'
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undreds of koalas burned alive in blazing bushfire declared 'national tragedy'

Hundreds of koalas are feared to have burned alive after a massive bushfire ripped through their southern Australia habitat in what is being described as a "national tragedy". The massive 2,000 hectare blaze is believed to have started when lightning struck the prime koala breeding ground near Port Macquarie in New South Wales, around 250km (155 miles) from Sydney. Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has estimated there could be up to 350 casualties of the 'vulnerable' marsupial - of which just 43,000 remain in the wild. The hospital, which can house 40 koalas, has managed to raise 150 volunteers but is unable to look for surviving koalas until Friday when the flames have died down.

The Port Macquarie bushfires are particularly damaging because they have hit a critical sanctuary inhabited by a large population of genetically-diverse koalas. One expert described koalas as being "terrible" in fire survival scenarios making them common fatalities in such disasters. "If the fire goes through quickly and just singes their fur, they are fine and the fur will grow back," Sue Ashton of the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital told news agency AFP.

“What generally happens in a fire is the koala climbs right up to the top of the tree and curls into a little ball,” she said. “So often the flames will just go over the top and singe the outside, but with really intense fires it can burn them alive.” Koala numbers have been falling in recent years as dog attacks, climate change and habitat destruction affect its numbers. Ms Ashton added: "It's a national tragedy because this koala population is so unique."

Australia has battled hundreds of wildfires in the past months as summer temperatures climb to as high as 40C in some areas. At least 30 homes have been destroyed as 71 bushfires continue to rage, the BBC reports. The country has struggled with sparse rainfall and a severe drought following record high winter temperatures, caused in part by climate change.

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