A former geography teacher in Warminster is appealing for people to help crochet and knit items for the thousands of animals left homeless by the raging bush fires in Australia.

Koala keepers from Longleat Safari Park near Warminster are also being flown out to Australia by Singapore Airlines to help with the wildlife emergency.

Former teacher, Katie Mairis, who turned 40 on Monday, now runs Yarn for the Soul, an indie dye yarn shop in Silver Street.

She has already had 40 items donated to her collection hub for the appeal by the Australian Animal Rescue Collective Craft Guild.

It has been estimated that close to 500 million animals have been killed in the New South Wales bushfires alone since September and the toll nationwide if feared to be much higher.

The fires have left millions of Australian mammals, such kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and koalas, as well as birds, homeless after their habitats were destroyed.

Miss Mairis, a single mother of two, said: “I was absolutely sickened and heartbroken about what has happened in Australia.

“The present financial climate is tight and people haven’t always got £10 or £20 to donate, but knitters and crocheters always have scraps they can put to good use.

“I’m appealing to them to knit or crochet items which can be used to keep the animals warm and provide them with a home.

“I’ve already had a good response locally to the appeal. It doesn’t matter if the items are stripey or not, or if they mismatch.

“What matters is that we provide pouches for the joeys and nests for the birds to post overseas.”

Miss Mairis is planning to collect items up to January 25 to send to a central hub for transport to Australia.

Meanwhile, koala keepers from Longleat are on their way to Australia to help with the ongoing wildlife emergency caused by the devastating bushfires.

Two specialist keepers with experience of working with koalas and wombats are flying to South Australia to assist with the wildlife rescue operation.

Longleat is the only zoological collection in Europe to look after southern koalas, and is part of a long term partnership with the South Australia Government and Cleland Wildlife Park, in the Adelaide Hills, to support research and conservation programmes for wild koalas.

Last year Viscount Weymouth, Ceawlin Thynn became patron of the International Koala Centre for Excellence (IKCE), a ground-breaking joint initiative to support research and raise funds for koala management and conservation.

Longleat’s Head of Animal Adventure Graeme Dick said: “We have been in regular contact with our colleagues in Australia throughout this devastating natural disaster and have been watching with horror as the true extent of the damage and loss has become clear.

A second Longleat keeper who also has experience caring for and treating koalas and wombats will join Graeme on the trip.

The decision to travel followed a call with partners in Australia who suggested any experienced, hands-on practical help with the support effort would be beneficial given the scale of the situation.

Mr Dick added: “We offered whatever assistance we could and they made it clear having experienced keepers who have worked with koalas and are familiar with the set up at Cleland Wildlife Park would be a big help.”

The team is being flown out free of charge by Singapore Airlines, who are official supporters of the Longleat and IKCE partnership, and they hope to be on the ground over the weekend.

In addition to practical help and support with the rescue programme, the team will be taking a Longleat donation of AUS$ 25,000 to help fund work being undertaken by three local rescue groups based in South Australia.

“The initial funds will be shared between SAVEM (South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management), Minton Farm Rescue and Manfred Heide Wombat Rescue.

“Urgent help and resources are needed and we felt this was the best way to get extra funds and supplies direct to the areas where they are most required as quickly as possible.

“In addition to this immediate help we are launching a series of fundraising initiatives to assist with the longer term recovery programme. Full details of how to donate are on the Longleat website,” he said.

Funding will also include long-term support and research to help koala populations and ongoing issues with disease through IKCE.

“This is an absolutely catastrophic situation and Australia’s unique wildlife is being particularly hard hit. Recovery will take years and any help we’re able to give will be incredibly welcome,” he added.