HEROIC koala keepers from Longleat are jetting off to Australia to save wildlife from devastating bushfires.

Longleat’s head of animal adventure Graeme Dick and fellow koala keeper James Dennis will use their experience and expertise of working with koalas and wombats to assist with the massive animal rescue operation in the southern region.

Graeme said: “We have been in regular contact with our colleagues in Australia throughout this devastating natural disaster and have been watching with horror as the true extent of the damage and loss has become clear."

The decision to travel followed a call with partners in Australia who suggested any experienced, hands-on practical help with the support effort would be beneficial given the scale of the situation.

Graeme added: “We offered whatever assistance we could and they made it clear having experienced keepers who have worked with koalas and are familiar with the set up at Cleland Wildlife Park would be a big help.

“In addition to this immediate help we are launching a series of fundraising initiatives to assist with the longer term recovery programme. Full details of how to donate are on the Longleat website.

“This is an absolutely catastrophic situation and Australia’s unique wildlife is being particularly hard hit. Recovery will take years and any help we’re able to give will be incredibly welcome."

Longleat is the only zoological collection in Europe to look after southern koalas and is part of a long term partnership with the South Australia Government and Cleland Wildlife Park, in the Adelaide Hills, to support research and conservation programmes for wild koalas.

Last year Viscount Weymouth, Ceawlin Thynn became patron of the International Koala Centre for Excellence (IKCE), a ground-breaking joint initiative to support research and raise funds for koala management and conservation.

The team is being flown out free of charge by Singapore Airlines, who are official supporters of the Longleat and IKCE partnership, and they hope to be on the ground over the weekend.

In addition to practical help and support with the rescue programme, the team will be taking a Longleat donation of AUS$25,000 to help fund work being undertaken by three local rescue groups based in South Australia.

The initial funds will be shared between SAVEM (South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management), Minton Farm Rescue and Manfred Heide Wombat Rescue.

Funding will also include long-term support and research to help koala populations and ongoing issues with disease through IKCE.

It has been estimated that close to 500 million animals have been killed in the New South Wales bushfires alone since September and the toll nationwide if feared to be much higher.