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The world loses a beloved koala – Ember

Ember and her joey

Today seems a little darker as we bring you news that one of the world’s well-known and much-loved koalas has sadly died.

Many of you will remember Ember, the iconic symbol of the 2019/2020 bushfires both nationally and internationally.

In December 2019, Ember was rescued by Friends of the Koala rescue volunteers Bill and Ros, while walking on the ground surrounded by burning embers and fallen trees in the Bungawalbyn National Park towards the end of the Black Summer Bushfires in NSW. She was severely dehydrated, her fur was black, coated in soot and badly singed. She suffered from congested lungs from smoke inhalation and she had sustained significant burns to her rump and all four paws.

Everyone feared for her survival but, despite a worrying prognosis, Ember’s health began to improve. Eventually, with care and attention from Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, our IFAW-supported veterinary team and our dedicated volunteers, she made a full recovery, and we released her back into the wild. Ember’s recovery despite the odds taught us about the resilience of koalas amidst the stark reality of the bushfires – her’s was a story of great recovery and it boosted everyone’s morale.

To our delight eighteen months after her release, Ember was spotted in the wild with a joey of her own and more recently she was again spotted with another joey – we celebrated her story in-house and on socials multiple times.

Ember and her joey
Volunteers captured a photo of Ember and her beautiful joey

Following the sighting of Ember with this second joey, in October last year she was seen low in a tree by Ros and Bill, two of our volunteers, without her joey. They brought her in to Friends of the Koala for a full health screen examination, and when they went home, found the joey (Ash) dead on the ground not far from where Ember had been sitting. It was a female with no obvious signs of a problem.

Upon examination, Ember’s coat had turned a little brown and dry, her body condition wasn’t as good as it should have been, but this can happen when koalas are rearing young joeys (like flamingos lose their pink). Ember also showed some signs that she may have been affected by Koala Retrovirus as we noticed pigmentation loss from her hands and feet. Our IFAW-supported vets were also suspicious that her bladder lining looked a little thicker than usual, but all of her tests came back normal – no pathogens were detected.

In our Koala Care Centre, Ember was moving well, eating and scatting normally so she was released back home for ongoing monitoring. Our IFAW-supported veterinary team were concerned about her immune system and thought that perhaps Ember might be more susceptible to disease than a healthy koala because of the damage caused during the bushfires.

On March 5, Ros and Bill noticed that Ember appeared thin and her backside had telltale signs of a koala with Chlamydia. They contacted us and, with the help of rescue volunteers April and Paul she was again brought in. Upon examination, it was discovered that Ember had lost significant body condition and was showing clear evidence of urogenital chlamydial disease. In a short period of time, Ember’s health had suffered rapid decline.

Due to the extensive damage to her reproductive tract and bladder, along with her depleted body condition, the kindest decision in animal welfare – yet one of the toughest – was to euthanise her. She went back to Ros and Bill’s wildlife refuge where she is now buried next to our Sid who had sired her joeys.

A ‘Grevillea Wildfire’ has been planted between the two stones marking Ember and Sid’s resting places.

Everyone at Friends of the Koala is devastated by the loss of Ember and she will also undoubtedly be missed by people around the world who followed her story. Ros and Bill, who miss her terribly, tell us that Ember had a number of favourite perching and food trees, including a particular liking for a West Australian flowering gum – not known to be a koala food tree – and every week or so, after having spent the previous day in her favourite Swamp Mahogony, they would find the ground under that tree littered with half-eaten or rejected leaves.

The world lost another much loved and revered koala. RIP Ember.

A beautiful carving created from locally sourced timber and paints and donated by a generous artist.

We at Friends of the Koala are the ones on the ground every day working to save koalas, which can be sad. We care deeply about each individual koala and the emotional toll of losses is challenging. Whilst in our public campaigns we are upbeat and positive, behind the scenes there can be real sadness that we don’t always share with everybody.

Friends of the Koala offers all services free to the community but of course, all of what we do costs money, directly or indirectly. We urgently need donations to keep our services going. We don’t receive ongoing operating funding and our more than 240 volunteers and small staff team work hard to meet the needs of all koalas in our region. We don’t want to turn a koala away due to lack of resources. We understand times are tough financially, not just for us. Any donation, no matter how small or large is welcome. If you can, please give so we can continue the vital work of saving the lives of koalas in the Northern Rivers.

You can read more about Ember and her story below.

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