'How the hell?' Disturbing truth behind photos of koalas in suburbia

Michael Dahlstrom
·News and Video Producer
·6-min read

Images of koalas finding their way into factories, strolling along railway lines, and climbing up power poles have been shared thousands of times on social media this year.

While populations of Australia’s favourite marsupial have plummeted, rescuers say they are seeing increased numbers in our suburbs.

In the first week of October, wildlife groups in both South Australia and Queensland attended to lost koalas on railway corridors.

Photographs of the rescues attracted concern online, with the image of a cowering marsupial at Noarlunga Station, south of Adelaide, reaching over a million people.

A koala (left) was found beside train tracks in Adelaide just one day prior to another (right) crossed a railway corridor in Moreton Bay. Source: Southern Koala Rescue / Queensland Rail
A koala (left) was found beside train tracks in Adelaide in the same week that another (right) crossed a railway corridor in Moreton Bay. Source: Southern Koala Rescue / Queensland Rail

During that rescue, on October 7, Adelaide Metro halted the trains so volunteers from Southern Koala Rescue could assist.

The group’s founder, Mish Simpson, said the koala, later named Nia, was lucky to be uninjured.

“I think she'd just gotten down there and there were concrete walls on either side,” Ms Simpson said.

“She couldn't get out and was just exhausted by the time we found her.

“She actually had a baby in a pouch, so we had her in care for a week to make sure everything was okay.”

Koala ventures inside a factory

While growing public awareness about koala welfare is noted by rescuers as being one reason for increased call outs, there is another much more heartbreaking reason driving demand for their services.

Frontline volunteers told Yahoo News Australia koalas have lost their homes to development and simply have nowhere else to go.

When trees are felled, Australia’s scattered surviving koalas end up homeless and are later discovered on power poles and roads.

Sadly, rescuers say they are often called to assist the same displaced animals again and again.

One male named Killen, who is living in Queensland’s Moreton Bay area, has received help a staggering six times.

Most recently he was rescued after delaying trains at Kippa-Ring Station, north of Brisbane, after he walked across tracks and climbed up a power pole.

Ms Greta was rescued in August after being found clinging to a pole at a Queensland train station. Source: Moreton Bay Koala Rescue
Ms Greta was rescued in August after being found clinging to a pole at a Queensland train station. Source: Moreton Bay Koala Rescue
A cherrypicker was required to get the koala down from inside this factory in Clontarf. Source: Kate Newland Edwards
A cherrypicker was required to get the koala down from inside this factory in Clontarf. Source: Kate Newland Edwards

Another displaced koala, Ms Greta, was rescued from a railway station in August, and then again from an even more unusual location in October.

This callout led her rescuer, Moreton Bay Koala Rescue volunteer Kate Newland Edwards, to take to Facebook and write that the situation koalas find themselves in ‘is not acceptable.”

“Our koala's are running out of space,” she wrote.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Ms Edwards said as she followed travel directions to the caller’s location in a built up part of Clontarf, it became clear the koala had ventured into a troubling location.

“When I actually drove onto the road and saw where the caller was, I thought I’m actually heading towards an industrial unit,” Ms Edwards said.

“When [the caller] said go to Door D, I thought ‘Door D, [the koala’s] actually inside a factory’.

“And basically my first thought was ‘How the hell? Why is there a koala in here?’

“Well, we all know why, but to physically see it is a little bit gut-wrenching.”

Getting Ms Greta out of the warehouse and back up a tree took 90 minutes and the skilled use of a cherrypicker.

Rescuers know it may only be a matter of time before she needs help again.

‘Won't be able to see koalas in the wild’

Simply shifting the animals to a new area is not always a solution, because koalas like most Australian wildlife are territorial and will try and return to their homeland when moved.

Finding suitable habitat for release is also becoming a struggle as koala habitat is felled to make way for development.

Moreton Bay Koala Rescue’s Mike Fowler believes it is too easy for property developers to offset the destruction of koala habitat by protecting forest elsewhere.

As koalas are displaced, Mr Fowler says he has noticed an increase in koala road deaths, with 59 hit by cars around Moreton Bay since the June 1 this year. Only 11 survived.

Animals lucky enough to be rescued are often weak and desperately in need of hydration and food, as they are dependent on eucalyptus leaves to stay healthy.

Rescuers say koalas like this disorientated male found next to a carpark simply have nowhere left to live. Source: Moreton Bay Koala Rescue
Rescuers say koalas like this disorientated male found next to a carpark simply have nowhere left to live. Source: Moreton Bay Koala Rescue

Mr Fowler fears that without urgent government intervention to protect habitat, the only place Queenslanders will see koalas is in captivity.

“Pretty soon, people are only going to be able to see them at zoos, or wildlife centres, they won't be able to see them in the wild. All they’ll see is a stretch of housing,” Mr Fowler told Yahoo News Australia.

“For hundreds of years [koalas] have had their natural habitat, but now where there was once nature, there’s a warehouse.

“It’s the old ‘pave paradise, put up a parking lot’.

“We're knocking it down and putting up buildings where koalas should be.”

Call for more regulation to protect habitat

More than 160,529 hectares of “known and likely koala habitat” was destroyed in NSW and Queensland between 2012 and 2017, according to an estimate from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

Despite the species being listed in NSW, Queensland and the ACT as a nationally threatened species in 2012, only nine per cent of koala habitat was regulated under national laws designed to protect them.

Koalas are increasingly being rescued from backyards around the south of Adelaide. Source: Southern Koala Rescue
Koalas are increasingly being rescued from backyards around the south of Adelaide. Source: Southern Koala Rescue

ACF ecosystems campaigner Jess Abrahams told Yahoo News Australia that habitat loss is a key pressure on koalas which are now facing extinction in NSW and Queensland.

“Despite knowing that this beautiful, unique Australian creature is vulnerable to extinction, we continue to destroy habitat and we are doing this nationally,” Mr Abrahams said.

“The result is that these creatures are being forced from their natural habitats into highly modified urbanised one in which they're subject to even more pressure, whether it's car strikes, or dog attacks, or getting run over.

“I feel terrible that these creatures aren’t in the bush living their best lives, and instead they're kind of struggling for existence in a landscape that is full of danger.”

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