The discovery of the ‘golden children’

13 Jan 2020 5 min read

Everyone in South Australia remembers the fateful end of 2019 when temperatures exceeded 45C across the state. It was 5 days until Christmas and the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island were facing multiple bushfires. The race was on to bring the devastation of fire under control.

At the time, Chris Daniels, Director or Cleland Wildlife Park (now Chief Executive Officer for Koala Life) was approached and agreed to assist with homing injured koalas caught up in the bushfires at Cudlee Creek in the hills. Precautions were made at short notice to ensure these koalas were cared for in a private sanctuary at Cleland Wildlife Park until healthy enough to be released back into nature.

These particular koalas were identified with KoRV (Koala Retro Virus) which is also known as Koala Aids and is known to cause lymph cancer and increase the morbidity of infectious diseases such as Chlamydia, Pneumonia and Influenza. Their care was managed away from the humanised, healthy population that have become a major attraction in the Adelaide Hills.

During the rescue, the western half of Kangaroo Island was also being engulfed by fire and a similar threat to wildlife was occurring. Firefighters, community and specialist volunteer vets worked around the clock to protect animals seeking refuge from fire. Parndana Wildlife Park, a key attraction on the island became the safe haven for many hungry and injured wildlife. Similarly the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary was grappling to remain safe while caring for an increasing number of koalas.

Chris and Cleland staff travelled to Kangaroo Island where they provided veterinary assistance and responded to the request of Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to translocate koalas to the mainland. After obtaining permissions, military support and financial donations were forthcoming for the construction of koala enclosures, a successful translocation was undertaken on the 13th January, 2020.

The translocation attracted international attention reaching more than 15 million people through images of the army feeding and caring for the koalas. This led to a further translocation and all koalas rescued from Kangaroo Island were identified to be disease-free and became known as ‘the golden children’.

These golden children are now considered an insurance colony that could play an important role in the long-term conservation of the species nationally.