WARNING – DISTRESSING IMAGE: Rescuers were left frustrated after a koala found disorientated at a Gold Coast shopping centre car park was surrounded by shoppers wanting to take photos of him.
Found on Sunday at Westfield Coomera, wildlife carers said they were alerted to the situation after a post on a social media page encouraged people to come and see the "cute koala".
WildCare’s Amy Wregg, who attended the scene and found the marsupial hiding in a small tree, told Yahoo News Australia a shopping centre security guard was needed to control the crowd.
“We had a bit of an entourage filming us at some point, because they thought it was quite entertaining that there was a koala at a shopping centre,” Ms Wregg said.
“He was very stressed and very vocal which isn’t the most pleasant sounding noise.
“It probably took us about an hour to get him down, because we had to keep giving him breaks because he was so stressed.”
While the koala has been sent for treatment at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital for chlamydia infection, Ms Wregg says she is unsure what to do with him once he is healthy again.
The male is believed to be 10 years old and this makes relocation an unrealistic outcome.
“Everyone sees a koala and thinks: 'It’s cute, it’s cute. It’s not cute'. It's not,” she said.
“With this one because of his age, he needs to go back to his habitat, but where does he go?
“I’m just worried that wherever I release him he’s going to get pushed out again.
“At what point to they say enough is enough?”
Government considers koala endangered listing
Last week the federal government announced they are considering updating the koala’s status from vulnerable to endangered across NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
The announcement came as a draft consultation document was released indicating koala populations have dropped by close to 60 per cent over the last 20 years across these jurisdictions, making them eligible for the listing.
Conservation groups including Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare and World Wildlife Fund-Australia, who called for the endangered listing last year, have urged immediate action to strengthen protections.
"This is news that no Australian can be proud of but we still have time to take action," HSI's Alex Wellbelove said.
Despite concern for the future of koalas, and a warning by a state parliamentary committee that the marsupials will be extinct in NSW by 2050, approval for the destruction of koala habitat has continued across areas including the Hunter and Campbelltown regions.
While in Victoria and South Australia the numbers are healthier, most animals in those states are genetically compromised due to a near extinction event from hunting and deforestation last century and as a result remain vulnerable to illness.
Small populations of genetically intact Strzelecki koalas in Victoria, which have been identified as having a greater ability to adapt to climate change, do not have special protection under federal environment laws, and continue to lose habitat to development.
Concern ongoing Gold Coast development killing koalas
On the Gold Coast, the situation for koalas remains particularly dire, and developments which destroy known-koala-habitat, such as the state and federal government backed motorway the Coomera Connecter, continue to receive approval.
As the human population increases, so too does demand for new services such as shops, houses and roads.
Ms Wregg said it is the third incident she is aware of at the Westfield Coomera, with one rescued near the food court, and another found on the median strip, however Scentre Group, who manage the site, said Sunday’s rescue is the first they are aware of there.
Scentre Group said they were pleased to hear their staff assisted in the rescue, but did not respond to questions about how they plan to assist koalas returning to the site in future, or whether they have offset land elsewhere to help koalas.
Although much of the surrounding area is zoned for development, construction has been slow over the last 20 years, and while koalas were once translocated from the region, new populations are now returning, according to Karina Waterman from Coomera Conservation Group.
City of Gold Coast told Yahoo News Australia that nearby land has been “classified as koala habitat” and that it is “subject to strict environmental planning overlays”.
“The importance of koalas within the Gold Coast has long been recognised, with various City policies and strategies regarding the management of populations and habitat in place including the City Plan,” a spokesperson said.
Despite koala protection assurances by the council, Ms Waterman argues conditions on projects across the Gold Coast are “not that restrictive at all” and that Queensland’s koalas are not being adequately protected.
Koala named after god-daughter killed by truck
Koala breeding season has come early this year, and Ms Wregg is already attending to between one and two displaced koalas a day across the Gold Coast.
She’s already feeling exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and her long shifts can stretch late into the night and into the weekend.
“I’ve had so many hit by cars lately where people have just left them,” she said.
“They’ve had babies in their pouches, and one koala last week had its guts falling out and it was still crawling across the road.
“To make things worse, she was one that I’d rescued earlier and named after my god-daughter.
“She survived treatment and then got cleaned up by a truck.”
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