Australian Wildlife Park Celebrates 'Sign of Hope' in First Koala Born Since Deadly Bushfires

An animal center in Australia is marking a hopeful milestone in the wake of the country's brutal bushfires.

On Tuesday, the Australian Reptile Park in Somersby, Australia, posted a video on Instagram that chronicled a new addition to its wildlife family: a baby koala named Ash! The newborn joey is the park's first since the sweeping fires, which experts say killed more than 1 billion animals.

"We have a very special announcement… Our very first koala of the season has popped out of Mum's pouch to say hello! 🐨," read the birth announcement post. "Keepers have decided to name her Ash! Ash is the first koala born at the park since the tragic Australian bushfires and is a sign of hope for the future of Australia’s native wildlife."

In the touching video, human caregivers embrace the mother koala as she reveals the baby from within her pouch. The adorable joey places her tiny hand on the keeper's, staying halfway inside the comfort of her mom's pouch.

The Australian Reptile Park announced on Sunday that it would reopen on June 1 following a months-long closure due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. "Our dedicated staff has been working throughout lockdown to care for our animals, and now, we’re unbelievably excited to reopen our doors and welcome you back!" the park said in a statement.

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The fires that ravaged much of Australia's ecosystem was deemed "contained" in February after raging on for most of the fall.

"In what has been a very traumatic, exhausting and anxious bush fire season so far, for the first time this season all bush and grass fires in NSW are now contained," the New South Wales Rural Fire Service wrote at the time. "It has taken a lot of work by firefighters, emergency services and communities to get to this point."

Earlier this year, a study from the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Biolink research group found that at least 5,000 koalas are estimated to have died in the fires in New South Wales — about 12 percent of the koala population in the state.

However, the study found that the deaths in the fires were only the most recent setback for the animals, urging the species to be classified as endangered.

According to the report, up to two-thirds of the koala population in New South Wales has died in the last three generations "due to drought, bushfires, and man-made causes."

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