Tourists entering Australia have been warned not to play with wild koalas after footage emerged of a man feeding and stroking a large male on a low-hanging branch.
In the video, visitors to a popular Victorian holiday island can be heard chuckling as they watch the man blissfully handing the marsupial wads of young eucalyptus leaves.
While the dangers of feeding dingoes and crocodiles are now widely known by travellers, it seems many aren't aware of the threat posed by Australia's fluffy marsupials. And no, the main threat isn't chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease many koalas carry.
It's their claws and teeth.
“They may look cute and cuddly, but they have sharp teeth that are like a vice. And the claws are like razor blades — they’ll open you right up,” Victorian koala rescuer Shelley Robinson told Yahoo News Australia.
“The worst ones are little joeys because their claws are like needles because they haven’t been blunted by climbing.
“They don’t mean to hurt you. They’re just nicely holding onto you and all of a sudden they’ve cut through the skin just from touching you.”
'Drop bears' may be a myth, but koalas can be dangerous
Don't worry, this isn't a stitch-up about about "drop bears" — they're an urban legend about koala-like creatures with sharp teeth that tour guides share tales of to scare travellers from far off countries like the United States, England, China and Japan.
This is a genuine warning that koalas can be dangerous if you handle them without the necessary expertise. It's worth noting, that just like with eagles, in most states wildlife volunteers actually need to do extra training to care for them.
Last year a Gold Coast driver learnt a hard lesson when she tried to rescue a koala on a road and ended up falling over after it tried to scale her leg. You can watch the video of tourists feeding a koala on Raymond Island below.
Humans pose greater risk to koala health
While koalas can hurt you, they don’t pose a threat to human life. But when humans blunder around koalas their actions can be fatal to the marsupials.
Giving water to koalas straight from a bottle is a known problem as it can deliver the liquid straight to their lungs and give them pneumonia or cause aspiration.
Feeding them is also a bad idea, because a koala taking leaves from humans low to the ground signifies something could be wrong with the animal’s health.
Robinson is the president of Koalas of Raymond Island on Victoria's Gippsland Lakes and she has some clear advice. “Don’t feed them, touch them, or pet them. If they’re on the ground it’s an indicator something is wrong,” she said.
If you see a koala that isn't high in a tree, it's suggested you should call a local wildlife rescue group which will assist you free of charge.
What happened to the koala in the video?
Luckily for the man in the video, another tourist recognised it was a problem and notified Robinson and her team of rescue volunteers at Koalas of Raymond Island.
Sari, a traveller from Finland, then waited with the animal for help to arrive. The koala, named Tobias, was actually well-known to the group which has named and cared for many of the Victorian tourist island’s marsupial residents.
After rescuers noticed a large scratch on his body from fighting during breeding season, the team gave him treatment and then released him a couple of days later.
If you’d like to find out more about Koalas of Raymond Island or make a donation to help fund wildlife care you can find out more here.
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