Brisbane: Cuddly koala, big struggle

By Sarah Motherwell

Behind those bright eyes is a struggle for survival, Sarah Motherwell learns
It is rare that a healthy koala will seek out a human embrace. Photo / 123RF
It is rare that a healthy koala will seek out a human embrace. Photo / 123RF

We joked it was just our luck that after hiking through Brisbane's eucalypt woodland for an hour the only wild koala we saw was in the car park.

But not just any koala - what sat on the branch was closer to a gremlin that had been fed after midnight than the adorable marsupial trotted out for hugs with dignitaries.

We stood and watched, took a photo, talked about how this would make a funny story.

The one thing we didn't do, which I deeply regret today, is call for help.

We never thought the little fellow might have been injured or very ill - something I learned months later when I met Jacque.

Jacque was recovering in intensive care at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital.

He had sustained serious neurological damage after he was attacked by two pitbulls.

Vets said he could only walk in a circle when he was admitted.

The tragedy was that Jacque was a perfectly healthy, breedable male before the accident, free from the disease and injury that plagues much of the species in Queensland.

Birds make up 80 per cent of the animals brought into the Wildlife Hospital but koalas take up the most care. The tree-dwelling marsupials are often hit by cars while trying to cross the roads between their fragmented habitat.

Brash was struck by a vehicle in Creek Rd in Mount Gravatt, south of Brisbane, and was having his one-week check-up during my visit.

"You might want to stay back. Koalas have a habit of just waking up," the vet nurse said as Brash came out sedation.

I didn't have to look twice at his claws to understand these cuddly-looking creatures could do some damage, although, as I would learn, a cuddly koala in the wild is actually a sign the animal is desperately ill and in need of medical attention.

Those sharp claws also do little to defend koalas against dogs, the second-biggest killers of koalas.

Brash's jaw was still swollen so he rejoined the other 100 or so koalas that can be found in the hospital's care at any one time during the busy season.

A lot of the care happens back-of-house where segregated enclosures allow koalas to recover without infectious diseases like chlamydia.

Visitors have a small glimpse of what goes on at the hospital through viewing windows into the check-up room and intensive care unit.

Allowing people to see what was happening was important to founder Steve Irwin, who created the hospital in memory of his mother and wildlife carer Lyn.

Since the facility opened in 2004, dedicated staff and volunteers have treated more than 62,000 animals, of which almost 8000 have been koalas.

The hospital relies on the neighbouring zoo and donations from sponsors like AAT Kings to continue helping koalas, which cost on average $1500 to treat.

The most severe cases exceed $5000.

As I was touring the grounds, I realised that only seeing bright-eyed, healthy koalas in captivity had shielded me from the real threats these beloved Australian animals face.

I would thoroughly encourage anyone who visits the Sunshine Coast to take time to visit the hospital for a gold coin donation to learn how to protect native wildlife and spot when they need our help.

- AAP

- NZ Herald

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