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Byron Shire
March 2, 2021

Linda’s love for koalas

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Linda feeding baby Lauren at Friends of the Koala in Lismore. Photo supplied.

Linda Swankie

Before moving to Australia from the UK in 2016, I had visited Lismore, and Friends of the Koala, several times. Having been extremely impressed with the amazing amount of work done by a small, volunteer organisation, I knew that when I moved here I wanted to contribute as much as possible.

Since becoming a volunteer I have learned so much about koalas and the threats facing them, and have been shocked at how little the government is doing to help them. Indeed, it seems intent on hastening the demise of this iconic marsupial by facilitating widespread removal of trees. Loss of habitat is the critical factor to the future of koalas in the wild.

Although disease, car hits and dog attacks are important threats to koalas, these are all by-products of habitat loss.

You don’t need any special skills or qualifications to become a volunteer at FOK, just a passion for koalas and a few spare hours a week. When I first started volunteering I helped out on afternoon shifts, where I cleaned and disinfected the runs and provided fresh leaf for the koalas.

As the vast majority of koalas at FOK are being prepared for release back into the wild, they cannot become humanised, so volunteers are not allowed to touch them. However, just being close to these animals and knowing that you are contributing not only to the welfare of individual animals, but to the survival of the species as a whole, is a rare privilege.

Some animals are in care for many months and you get to know their individual personalities.

Some are very quiet and gentle, some a bit sassy, some don’t like being in care so can be a bit grumpy.

Of course, you aren’t supposed to have favourites but everyone seems to have a soft spot for a particular koala.

As I’ve become more involved with FOK I have learned how to administer medicines and supplements; how to recognise the often subtle signs that urgent veterinary intervention is required; how to handle and rescue koalas and assess their immediate requirements and how to care for orphaned koala joeys. I have also learned other transferable skills such as how to supervise other volunteers, deliver education and lead tours.

However, one of the most important things I have learned is to love and admire these beautiful creatures and passionately advocate for their protection and future survival.

Some days as a volunteer can be very hard, particularly when rescuing koalas that have to be euthanased. I recently picked up a koala that had been found lying face

down on the ground. It was so wasted it didn’t even have the energy to lift up its head, and a juvenile was in such a bad state that he was in advanced organ failure.

Although heartbreaking, there was nothing that could be done for either of them except get them to a vet straight away to be euthanased to end their suffering.

Unfortunately there seem to have been quite a few similar cases recently, with the hot, dry weather exacerbating the problems. I have heard some criticism of FOK for euthanasing koalas, but if you saw the extent of the suffering that we see on an almost daily basis you would have to agree it is the only option.

All our koalas are seen by a vet experienced in koala treatment and, ultimately, it is the decision of the vet on whether to euthanase or not based on the welfare of the individual animal.

It is never a decision that is taken lightly. All us volunteers have bad days where we have a good cry but we get up, dust ourselves down and keep going because we know the koalas need us.

It’s not all doom and gloom though and the good days more than compensate for the bad. Special moments include the first sight of a young joey emerging from its mother’s pouch when in care, such as with Pearl and Oyster, or successfully releasing a koala back into the wild where it belongs after many months in treatment, such as the lovely Orla. I’ll tell you their stories another time.

PS. We always need more volunteers!

Fore more information on how you can volunteer, contact Friends of the Koala on 0417 445 359 or visit the website: www.friendsofthekoala.org.

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