Orphaned koalas rescued from Australia's bushfires hug teddy bears for comfort

Bronwen Weatherby
MARIUS BECKER/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

Videos of orphaned koalas hugging teddy bears have become a heartrending reminder to the world of the devastation caused by Australia's wildfires to the habitats of billions of animals.

Efforts to rescue the marsupials, seen as a national symbol, have been ramped up in recent months as it is estimated that more than 25,000 have died in the blazes.

Vets and rescuers dealing with the fallout have tried to find ways to comfort the often injured koalas, many of which are young whose mothers have died in the flames.

Many are given teddy bears or cuddly koala toys which they can hold on to as a substitute.

The latest video to go viral was one posted by vet Paul Ramos who gave a traditional teddy bear to a young koala he was treating.

In the clip, Dr Ramos attempts to weigh the koala but it insists on taking the teddy with it onto the scales.

Koala expert Mark Krockenberger explained how the species "feels most comfortable when holding on to something".

"It likely provides a sense of security. This makes sense for an animal that spends its time primarily in trees and their vulnerability is increased when moving between trees," said the Professor of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney said:

A young koala in Adelaide hugs his stuffed toy as he sleeps(Getty Images)

"With young koalas, they spend their time hanging on to mum between about 5 months to maybe 12 months of age. Again, they are vulnerable if they are apart from their mother.

"So again, holding onto something seems likely to increase the sense of security for the animal.

"I think teddies are used because people feel they mimic the experience of holding onto the mother."

Used to this level of intimacy, koalas can also form strong attachments with their carers, including zookeepers.

The bushfires have burned through a vast area of land the size of South Korea, taking with it more than a fifth of the country's forests and caused an estimated one billion animal deaths.

Specialists have said 113 species now need "urgent help" after the fires.