America's Zoos Help Animals Threatened in Australian Fires With Custom T-Shirt, Contest and More

As wildfires continue to burn in Australia, American zoos are joining the relief effort by using the influence they have in their communities to raise donations, even offering "boots on the ground" if people are needed.

"Zoos around the world are rallying to get funds together," Tim Morrow, president and CEO of the San Antonio Zoo, told Newsweek.

Australia's deadly wildfires have burned through at least 15 million acres of land and could end up affecting a billion animals, according to University of Sydney ecologist Chris Dickman. Humans—and dogs—have helped locate and rescue injured koalas, which are being brought to sanctuaries, animal hospitals and makeshift triage centers for treatment.

Treating an influx in patients requires additional funds to support a growing need for veterinary care and food for animals whose habitats may have been severely damaged or even destroyed. To help reduce the financial burden of ensuring the survival of Australia's animals, zoos across America are raising money to donate to wildlife relief efforts.

On Sunday, the San Diego Zoo Global said it has raised more than $500,000 through an attendance match event and on-site and online donations. Zoo Miami and the Birmingham Zoo are each donating $10,000 to the crisis, and the Denver Zoo contributed $5,000 and offered to match an additional $5,000 worth of donations.

Morrow said that people might be more willing to donate to a fund set up by their local zoo than an outside source because they know the money will be used to care for animals. The San Antonio Zoo set up a fundraising website and, like the Denver Zoo, agreed to match up to $5,000 worth of donations.

To raise money for the animals in Australia, the Cincinnati Zoo tapped a celebrity for help: Fiona the hippo, who captured hearts with her story of overcoming the odds. The zoo teamed up with Cincy Shirts and local artist Loren Long to create a T-shirt featuring Fiona being hugged by a kangaroo and koala. All proceeds from the $25 shirt, plus a $5,000 donation from the zoo, will be sent to Zoos Victoria.

The San Francisco Zoo also capitalized on one of its animals to raise money. A new koala's name will be decided through a contest. To enter a name, all you need to do is choose a donation amount.

koala australia america zoos donations wildfires
Rescued orphaned baby koalas on January 8 at Adelaide Koala Rescue, which has been set up in the gymnasium at Paradise Primary School in Adelaide, Australia. To help wildlife relief efforts, zoos across America are getting creative to raise funds. Mark Brake/Getty

Along with more supplies to care for the animals, rescue organizations need a place to house them all. Danté Fenolio, vice president of conservation and research at the San Antonio Zoo, said it's unlikely animals will be sent outside of Australia for care because of strict wildlife laws. The bigger need, according to Fenolio, is helping people develop facilities in Australia.

"These efforts are hugely complicated because you can't take a whole bunch of animals and throw them in the same room," Fenolio explained. "They all have to be isolated."

To accommodate additional animal patients, Adelaide Koala Rescue set up a makeshift triage center in Paradise Primary School's gym. At least 100 koalas have been cared for at the center, according to 10 News First. However, they'll have to move to a new location by the end of January because students will be returning for the start of the new school year.

Koalas are particularly at risk because their slow-moving nature makes it difficult for them to escape the flames. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that at least 8,000 koalas have perished in the fires. The full scope of the situation and what's needed for relief efforts won't be determined until the fires subside.

When the San Antonio Zoo reached out to Victoria Zoos, Morrow said, it offered to send personnel to Australia to help.

"They don't need boots on the ground yet, so we're standing by," he said. If the personnel are not needed, he added, the zoo will send all of its donations to the Zoos Victoria bushfire emergency wildlife fund.

Koalas have become the face of the devastation in Australia, but with pictures of the burned marsupials flooding social media, they're not the only animal suffering. A number of less attractive or well-known species, such as the regent honeyeater and the Blue Mountains water skink, could face total decimation and are getting far less attention. But Morrow said interest in caring for the koalas will affect other wildlife as well.

"People love koalas and they're adorable, so that helps the conversation get started on all the species," he said. "No one's talking about the snakes and lizards but people helping koalas will help them too."

Looking to donate? Here's a list of zoo and rescue organization donation websites:

San Diego Zoo

Denver Zoo

San Antonio Zoo

San Francisco Zoo

Cincinnati Zoo

Zoos Victoria

Adelaide Koala Rescue