Ian, Paul and Rick are three rescued wild koalas from Numeralla who just want to go home

One of the Numeralla koalas at the ANU. Picture: Supplied

One of the Numeralla koalas at the ANU. Picture: Supplied

Ian, Paul and Rick can't speak for themselves. But if they could, they'd most likely say they just want to go home.

The three koalas, named after the US airmen who lost their lives when their C130 aerial tanker crashed near Cooma while fighting the bushfires, were among dozens rescued as the firefront approached their bush home at Numeralla near Cooma.

With koala sanctuaries in the immediate area unable to take them in, the Australian National University's marsupial research team had empty pens available and offered to look after them.

But now the furry natives have been held at the ANU for more than a month and are at the centre of a "tug-of-love" between the university and the koalas' original rescuers, who want the marsupials back and readied for their return to the Numeralla bush.

The ANU came to aid of the animals when it was most needed. The head researcher, Dr Karen Ford, is a koala nutritionist and has been caring for them with a eucalypt smorgasbord. They have been vet-checked on several occasions.

Ian, Paul and Rick are among some 20 koalas held in indoor cages at the ANU research centre.

"[The] ANU is not the decision-maker about where or when these koalas are returned," the university said in a statement.

"Decisions as to the future care of the koalas currently at [the] ANU are the responsibility of the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment."

A caged koala at the ANU. Picture: Supplied

A caged koala at the ANU. Picture: Supplied

The people who rescued the animals have been prepared for their return for weeks and experts say keeping wild koalas in cages is not conducive to their long-term health.

Anika Lehmann, an experienced and respected wildlife carer whose Moreton Bay Koala Rescue organisation in Queensland deals with hundreds of injured koalas a year, says she is concerned that the animals have been kept caged indoors for so long.

"Keeping wild koalas in small cages is very stressful for them," Ms Lehmann said.

"These Numeralla koalas are heirloom koalas; they have been living in the wild for generations without any contact with human beings.

"The longer wild koalas are kept in cages, the more stressed they become. If they are healthy, they should have been returned to Numeralla weeks ago."

A wildlife carer at the voluntary LAOKO (Looking After Our Kosciuszko Orphans) service which originally coordinated the animals' rescue, Richard Swain, says special outdoor habitats have been prepared to allow the animals to transition back to the wild.

He said many of those involved in the rescue including Aboriginal elders, French-Canadians, Germans and Wildcare volunteers, never expected the process to take this long.

The organisation has made a number of entreaties to have the koalas returned but without success.

Generally there may be one or two koala in care at any one time [at LAOKO], not 25 koalas affected by drought and fires at once. This requires a higher level of planning and co-ordination.

LAOKO president Brendan Diacono

"There were some country here which was burnt but there are also many areas which were not," Mr Swain said.

"We have made the appropriate preparations and for those koalas that are ready, we would like them to go back home to the bush."

LAOKO president Brendan Diacono denied there was a dispute between the parties over the koalas but instead indicated there were logistics issues to clarify in the rehabilitation process.

"Generally there may be one or two koala in care at any one time [at LAOKO], not 25 koalas affected by drought and fires at once. This requires a higher level of planning and co-ordination," he said.

In a statement, the NSW government said that it had arranged veterinary checks of the koalas and is "waiting for the results".

"When the animals are healthy, they will be transferred to authorised carers from the wildlife organisation, LAOKO, for pre-release rehabilitation and release as soon as possible," the statement said.