Koalas that were in the path of a raging bushfire a week ago have been rushed to safety after they were almost swept away by flash floods in Australia.
Months of drought that fuelled the torrent of flames gave way to torrents of rain on the country’s east coast on Friday morning, endangering animals at the Australian Reptile Park.
The rapidly rising waters in the biggest flood for 15 years also brought two American alligators within a metre of freedom.
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Soaking wet koalas clinging onto gum trees, and zoo keepers carrying marsupials through raging waters, have been pictured by the park.
In one image, a zoo keeper is seen leaning over the fence and trying to push an alligator back down with a broom as it stretches up in an apparent bid to escape.
‘This is incredible, just last week, we were having daily meetings to discuss the imminent threat of bushfires,’ park director Tim Faulkner said.
‘Today, we’ve had the whole team out there, drenched, acting fast to secure the safety of our animals and defend the park from the onslaught of water.
‘We haven’t seen flooding like this at the park for over 15 years.’
The park was closed on Friday as staff moved quickly to protect the animals after flood waters began rapidly rising about 7.30am.
The bushfires, which began in September, have claimed 28 lives and are estimated to have killed more than a billion animals across eastern and southern Australia.
The wet weather this week has given exhausted firefighters a huge boost, helping to reduce or contain some blazes.
But dozens of fires remain out of control, and authorities have warned the crisis could worsen again with Australia only half way through its summer.
‘The contrast between the current bushfire crisis and this sudden flooding is striking,’ Faulkner said.
‘But we are well-aware that a huge part of Australia is still burning, and millions of animals are still under threat.’
Mr Faulkner said keepers were stationed at the Alligator Lagoon to monitor the water levels, which were rising beyond the fence line.
‘We haven’t seen flooding like this at the Park for over 15 years,’ he said in an emailed statement.
The park’s enormous alligator lagoon is home to 35 of the potentially dangerous reptiles, native to north America, which grow up to 3.5m and weigh up to 400kg. It is ringed by two fences for safety.
Even if an alligator made it past the first fence, it is understood that it would be in no position to escape into the wild – but it would be quite difficult to catch them between the two fences and put them back in the lagoon.
The alligators are said to have become highly excited in the rain after months of dry weather and are understood to be ‘having a ball’ in Friday’s flood.
The waters rose so rapidly on Friday they dislodged a small dinghy which can be seen in the video crossing the Alligator Lagoon with nobody at the helm. Fortunately, it later floated back onto shore.
Mr Faulkner said the contrast to the bushfire crisis was striking. ‘This is incredible,’ he said.
‘Just last week, we were having daily meetings to discuss the imminent threat of bushfires, just 8km away from the Park here in Somersby.’
Mr Faulkner said the staff are aware that the bushfires are still burning and the rain doesn’t replace the millions of hectares of lost animal habitat.
The Australian Reptile Park works to protect native animals including the bushfire survivors through its conservation charity Aussie Ark.
He had just returned from a mission to the drought-shrivelled creeks in the Barrington Tops area to rescue endangered Manning River turtles and platypus when the flash flood suddenly struck on Friday morning.
On Friday, staff at the park were busy mopping out the offices and display areas, and checking all the enclosures, repairing any damage.
Mr Faulkner said the staff’s quick action had got the flooding under control and he said he expected the park to reopen on Saturday.
‘We’ll be open and ready to welcome visitors for the rest of the summer school holidays,’ he said.
Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Neale Fraser said 30mm to 40mm of rain had fallen quickly on Somersby and surrounding Central Coast areas from about 7am to 8.30am on Friday causing some localised flooding.
‘There were showers overnight but they intensified with thunderstorms for about an hour,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Things are so dry it’s (the water) probably running off rather than soaking in.’
Mr Fraser said the Central Coast could expect lighter showers today and tomorrow.