By Amanda Burdon
Contributing Writer to WWF
He was hunched in a furry ball on the ground when we found him. Bedraggled after an overnight storm and beside the road. There were no obvious injuries, but his every movement was laboured. It's not often you see a koala on the ground during the day, unless it's moving determinedly between trees, so I knew something was seriously wrong.
The dedicated Koala Rescue people that roam the North Coast of NSW were quick to respond to my distress call, but warned that he was not in good shape. He was thin, sluggish and suffering from diarrhoea. And the stats were not encouraging: of the 439 koalas they rescued in 2016, 85% had subsequently died, most of them victims of dog attacks or road accidents. Still, I knew he was in safe hands and hoped that he'd be returned healthier and stronger.
The last supper
So the phone call reporting that this koala, our koala, had been euthanised at a nearby wildlife hospital brought me to tears. He was an old boy, at about 10, and had advanced lymphoma. The vet suspected that, like most of the koalas in NSW and Queensland, he also had a retrovirus (akin to HIV for koalas) and that perhaps his depleted immune system had left him vulnerable to the cancer.
I took some comfort from knowing that he'd eaten all the fresh leaves I'd picked to sustain him for the trip to the hospital - a good last supper. And he hadn't suffered an agonising death, unable to climb and finally succumbing to starvation.
A shared home
We've delighted in sharing our property with these amazing animals. Hearing the territorial males warding off intruders into their territory was, at first, like something out of the film "Razorback", but we felt privileged to provide a refuge for them amidst the surrounding agricultural holdings. We planted the food trees koalas preferred, to link up with existing corridors, and kept a protective eye on the individuals we saw from time to time. We even boasted about them.
But now there is one less koala, and I feel the loss more deeply than I could have imagined. If we can't guarantee the health and safety of a koala living on our place, with an abundance of shelter and food, then what hope for those koalas in more fragmented habitat? And on top of large-scale habitat loss, widespread sexually-transmitted chlamydia, collisions with vehicles and dog attacks, there was now this retrovirus for koalas to contend with.
I don't want my future grandchildren to be denied the wonder of seeing a koala in its natural environment; to marvel at this unique Australian mammal. So I fired off a KIMBY today, urging politicians to strengthen rather than dilute land-clearing legislation, to safeguard the patches of koala habitat that remain. And I'll be making sure I share this story with all my neighbours. Because even one koala is one too many to lose.
Help save koalas and send a KIMBY today.