An image of a large male dog setting on a koala has prompted an urgent call for pet owners to better supervise their pets while on holiday.
Taken at Raymond Island, a popular Victorian tourist destination, the photograph shows a koala huddled on a suburban front lawn on Western Boulevard, with a dog appearing to bite it.
Rescuers said they are unsure whether the koala’s skin was pierced, as when they attended the scene, just after 10am on Tuesday, it had already scampered up a large gum tree.
With the tree lurching over a large body of water, koala rescuer Catherine Winzer said she has not been able to reach the animal safely.
Fearful that the koala could be injured, she and other volunteers are continuing to monitor the situation.
“Unfortunately, if it's been bitten it could be in trouble because they get infections from dog bites,” Ms Winzer told Yahoo News Australia.
“The tree is massive, all we can do is wait and see what happens and if it comes to ground, we’ll try to nab it then and check it out.”
While there has been some criticism online, suggesting the photographer should have intervened immediately rather than taking a photo, wildlife advocates say the image is important as it is evidence of a growing issue on the island.
Moments after she took the photo, the woman was able to encourage the dog to let go of the koala, according to sources.
Rescuers hope the photo will help educate tourists and save more koalas from a similar fate.
‘Picking up the pieces’ as dog leash rules not enforced, say rescuers
Despite the island’s increasing popularity as a tourist destination, wildlife advocates say they are frustrated by a lack of action from local and state governments in helping to protect the koalas.
This week alone, Shelley Robinson from rescue group Koalas of Raymond Island is aware of two koalas set upon by dogs.
“Raymond Island has definitely been discovered by tourists, and that’s brought along all sorts of problems,” Ms Robinson said.
“We’re just walking around picking up the pieces.”
In another incident this month, Ms Robinson was appalled when holidaymakers thought it was “really lovely” to watch their golden retrievers chase swans, ducks and their ducklings into the water.
“They’re standing on the bank encouraging the dogs, thinking it's really cute that they're swimming out after the ducks,” she said.
“It's just a bad mindset, and we see dogs going out and chasing kangaroos as well.”
Ms Robinson said there is only one “easily missable” sign at the island’s entry point, warning that dogs must be leashed, and there is a lack of enforcement of this rule, particularly during the Christmas holidays.
“There are no rangers to be in contact with at the moment,” Ms Robinson said.
“The shire office is closed and rangers in the area you can’t contact directly.”
The holiday season is precisely the time that rangers need to be available, Ms Robinson argues, as this is when there is an influx of tourists and their dogs.
Horror attack on koala results in hidden injury
Volunteers at Koalas of Raymond Island have attended to several “horrific” dog attacks this year.
In November, local dogs attacked a female koala, leaving her with severe injuries and killing her joey.
The female, named Blossom, was restored to health by carers over four months, but while her wounds healed, she struggled to eat.
“When they’d shaken her or banged her, (the dogs) caused neurological damage,” Ms Robinson said.
“What was happening is her tongue didn't work properly, so she was forcing leaf up into the side of her face.
“We were getting these golf ball amounts of leaf every day that we were having to flush out.”
Blossom sadly did not survive.
Koala carers under financial pressure amid growing numbers of attacks
As attacks on wildlife grow steadily, wildlife carers on the island say they are struggling to pay for the treatment of koalas.
Ms Robinson said Koalas of Raymond Island, a volunteer run not-for-profit, pay $70 for each veterinary consult, and the price only goes up with each treatment.
Euthanising koalas costs a further $50, while inserting an IV drip sets them back a further $219.
With both the financial and emotional cost mounting, Ms Robinson has some simple advice for people wishing to come to the island to enjoy the outdoors and see koalas.
“Be aware when the koala is coming down moving from tree to tree, that's not the time to let your dogs out to roam around,” she said.
“The time a koala’s likely to move is during the morning and night, so don’t have your dog out there in the yard.
“The majority of the residents are conscious of that at the moment tourists aren’t, and they need to be.”
Fate of koala hangs in balance
At the time of writing, the koala attacked on Western Boulevard remains up the tree with the extent of any injuries unknown.
Koalas of Raymond Island, said they have reported the attack to the department of environment (DELWP), however the Victorian government agency said they have not received it.
A DELWP spokesperson added that koalas are a protected species and the public can report environmental crime to the agency on 136 186.
“Dogs if not kept under control can attack and kill native wildlife. Responsible pet ownership is important to protect our native environment,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“Stray animals or pets not under control should be reported to the local council.”
Calls to East Gippsland Shire Council by Yahoo News Australia were met with a voicemail message saying the office is closed between December 25 and January 1.
A staff member later told Yahoo News Australia there was no one reachable to provide comment.
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