Koalas attacked by dogs can suffer potentially fatal internal injuries even if they appear unharmed.
That’s the message the RSPCA wants everyone to know after a koala mother stunned vets with her ability, against the odds, to survive life-threatening trauma.
The saga began when concerned citizens contacted the Ipswich Koala Protection Society (IKPS) in October 2020 after it was suspected a dog had attacked a koala mother at Lowood.
IKPS volunteers including Claire Phillips, who is also a vet with the RSPCA, were unable to nudge mother and joey down so they set up a trap around the base of the tree.
The pair, dubbed Fluffy and Andy, were caught and taken to the RSPCA Wildlife Hospital. At first glance there were no obvious signs of injury beyond a small scratch to Fluffy’s face.
However, Fluffy had an internal tear in her chest wall, a collapsed lung, broken ribs and extensive bruising. Despite that, she was still carrying Andy on her back.
“Her survival instinct was to protect her baby and that overrode her pain response,” Claire said.
“Her injuries were so severe we didn’t expect her to survive, but incredibly Fluffy pulled through following emergency surgery to repair her chest. She is one tough koala.
“The lesson is if you think a koala has been in direct contact with a dog always call animal rescuers, even if the koala looks ok.
“Koalas attacked by dogs often have severe internal injuries that are not obvious but can be fatal without urgent treatment,” she said.
Claire believes Fluffy would have died without the surgery she performed. Andy would have likely perished as he still needed his mother’s milk.
The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia and furniture company Koala have recently supported the Ipswich Koala Protection Society and the RSPCA.
Koala populations are crashing in Queensland and New South Wales, and 61,000 koalas nationwide were impacted by the bushfires.
“Koalas like Fluffy and Andy are now even more precious,” said Darren Grover, WWF-Australia’s Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes.
“WWF has launched Koalas Forever, an ambitious plan to double the number of koalas in Eastern Australia by 2050.
“The project includes a trial of seed planting drones to create koala corridors, boosting wildlife response capacity, and developing the case to establish the “Great Koala Tourism Trail” – a koala eco-tourism trail from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast,” he said.
Claire released Fluffy on 28 November 2020 at a home in Lowood which backs onto koala habitat. Locals have seen the plucky koala since then and report she seems in good health.
Andy had a poor body score when he arrived at the RSPCA. Marilyn Spletter, vice president of the Ipswich Koala Protection Society, cared for Andy for 6 weeks feeding him milk from a syringe.
He gained about 1.5kg in that time and was then transferred to a large enclosure with trees to enable him to build climbing strength.
Four months after his rescue Andy was finally ready to be returned to the wild. Marilyn, who has hand-reared 120 baby koalas, released Andy in the same tree as his mother on 11 February 2021.
“It’s bitter sweet because they’re still your babies. It’s good to see them go up a tree but it’s also sad when you know your baby now has to contend with everything in the wild,” she said.