Noah’s Ark-style evacuation at Cooberrie Park
There were reports that Cooberrie Wildlife park closed for business, following the bushfires that ravaged the region over the weekend, but Ranger Kieron Smedley said it's business as usual, for now.
"Cooberrie's not just the name of the park, it's this region, so people have heard the park's been damaged but that's not true."
The animals which were evacuated in a Noah's Ark-style effort Friday night, returned under police escort Monday, and welcomed the first tourists back on Wednesday morning.
The staff were prepared for an evacuation, with custom boxes and crates to pack over 150 animals in their van.
Koalas, crocodiles, monkeys, wombats, birds and reptiles were ferried, between 9.30pm Friday and 2am Saturday, to a secure location.
The animals which remained included the resident peacocks, ducks, and other free-ranging species which could not be rounded up.
The menagerie spent a stressful two nights away from home, and would have been moved on again if firefighters hadn't saved, not only the sanctuary but also the adjoining eucalyptus forests which feed the koalas.
"Koalas are particularly prone to stress from being relocated, and might not have made it through a third night," Mr Smedley said.
"Part of our contingency is to hand them over to Rockhampton Zoo firstly, or to Brisbane if we lost the park."
The wildlife sanctuary staff, who receive no government financing, were disappointed to turn away tourists on Tuesday.
"We had people from the Philippines come to visit us but we were still settling back in from the evacuation," Mr Smedley said.
So they were delighted to greet two German tourists who arrived via camper the next morning.
Julian Meier is a policeman from the German state of Bavaria and Sabrina Woenfl develops 3D printing technologies.
They travelled north from Newcastle last week to escape the bush fires in New South Wales.
"We're driving to Airlie Beach to go diving and were looking for a nice place to stop in between," Mr Meier said.
"We were planning to camp in this area but we saw the smoke from the bush fires, and didn't know if we could drive in."
The couple left their beach site Thursday morning and found Cooberrie Park open, where they paid for a cuddle with the fluffy residents Capri and Calypso.
"In Germany, we think Australia has many dangerous animals such as sharks and snakes, spiders and stingers in the water," Mr Meier said.
"It makes us sad that so many other, beautiful animals have lost their lives in the flames."
Regardless of the emergency, Mr Meier said they valued their exposure to "the real Australia".
"We didn't want to just see the touristy hotspots like Sydney," he said.
"We've stuck to the inland roads so we can see more of the small cities.
"But we didn't expect to see fires this close to people's homes and businesses."
And while Ranger Smedley is grateful to see the tourists return, he said the sanctuary staff's hearts go out to their neighbours who weren't so lucky.
"They've lost livestock, their pets, homes, everything," he said.
"It's ten times worse than anyone can imagine."