Australia can't catch a break. No sooner had catastrophic bushfires died down, regional tourism was hit by crippling travel restrictions.

However, after the fires, there's one group of marsupials for whom the Covid 19 pandemic could mean an early return to the wild.

In New South Wales a group of koalas, have been released back into the Kanangra-Boyd National park after a three month stay in Sydney Zoo.

Last week, a group of twelve koalas plus a joey, born during their stay in Sydney's Taronga Zoo, were returned to Blue Mountains. The return to the wild has been fast-tracked due do the new travel restrictions being put in place by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Back to the wild: Volunteers for Science for Wildlife Sydney return koalas to the Kanangra-Boyd bush. Photo / Supplied, Ian Brown, SfW
Back to the wild: Volunteers for Science for Wildlife Sydney return koalas to the Kanangra-Boyd bush. Photo / Supplied, Ian Brown, SfW

10000 of the animals – or about a third of the wild population in NSW – were wiped out during the wildfires this summer. Many who were not killed suffered severe dehydration and burns. This group of Koalas which were rescued in January, were lucky to be taken in by the non-profit Science for Wildlife, which is a cooperation between Sydney-based conservation project an Sandiego Zoo in America.

By Wednesday, the last of the rescued marsupials were returned to native eucalyptus forests.

"While they have coped well in care, we are delighted to finally send our koalas home. We have been busy assessing the burnt area that we rescued them from, to establish when the conditions have improved enough that the trees can support them again," said Dr Kellie Leigh, the director of Science for Wildlife.

The group emphasised the importance of returning the koalas to this part of the Blue Mountains. The Kanangra-Boyd represents the largest and most diverse gene-pools of koala in Australia, meaning its an important centre for encouraging the wild population to recover and breed in the wild.

"The population in Kanangra-Boyd is also free of chlamydia, which is sadly a rare thing," said Science and Wildlife Sydney.

Having taken in 12 and returned 13, koalas it might not be a large number, but it represents a small increase for the wild population. A victory, however small, for animals that were thought to be on the verge of "functional extinction" at the beginning of the year.