A cacophony of noise and excitement surrounds the entrance of Noosa National Park. Cries of 'rub his nose', 'what did you wish for?' and 'Mum, do you think he needs some sunscreen?' emanate from the area. The crowd subsides and into view rises a bronze Koala statue, sun dappling his face, revealing him in all his magnificence.
Harrold the Koala has become a much loved and embraced member of Noosa National Park by locals and visitors alike since he was unveiled by Noosa Mayor, Bob Abbot, and Australian Koala Foundation Executive Director, Deborah Tabart, in December 2003. He has already established a reputation as the 'Koala Legend'; able to make your wishes come true with a rub of his nose and the dropping of coins into his 'wishing box'. Also, friends of Harrold have taken to placing gum leaves in his paw, to stop his belly from grumbling, keeping him nice and full, with people travelling far and wide to 'lunch' with Harrold.
The stream of people visiting Harrold is endless. It has become a 'must do' when on vacation in the Noosa region. Cameras constantly click away with people wanting to capture image after image of their new Koala companion. The warmth and love for Harrold is overwhelming, with admirers practising a bit of slip slop slap action on his nose to prevent it from burning in the harsh Queensland sun. Also, the odd hat is often left jauntily on his head.
Harrold has also become a shrine for others. People have found a spiritual comfort in the presence of the bronzed Koala, leaving stones on his pedestal, a ritual practised in Europe at places that hold sacred significance.
So what has propelled Harrold into the realm of legend status? Is it just because any image of our gentle unassuming native melts even the hardest human heart, that a 1.5 tonne statue has prompted an outpouring of emotion? Or is there more to this story?
In fact the new permanent Noosa resident was erected in remembrance of one unlucky Koala who lost his fight for life whilst clutching a sprig of eucalypts in his paw. A harrowing image and a sad reminder that more must be done to protect our wild Koala population.
In June 2002, Noosa National Park Ranger Kylie Reidy rescued a large, injured male Koala that had been mauled by a domestic dog. After listening to him chatter throughout the night she named him Harrold after Koala conservationist, Dr. Arthur Harrold, who released wild Koalas into the area during the 1960s. Kylie tried to nurse him back to health but, to her regret, was unsuccessful.
The Australian Koala Foundation, the principal non-government organisation dedicated to saving the Koala and its habitat, is all too aware of the threat that domestic animals pose to the species.
It is estimated that between 1000-2000 Koalas are killed each year by dogs. However, there are ways we can help minimise these frightening statistics and protect Harrold's surviving friends and family. Use a leash when walking your faithful friend, particularly in bush areas where their presence may disturb Koala populations. Check trees in your yard before leaving your dog unattended and secure your dog at night, or keep it inside. Your puppy pals would prefer to be around you as darkness falls, and Harrold's mates can then socialise and look for tucker.
A common question asked when making the trip to visit Harrold is "What can we do to help?" Supporting the Australian Koala Foundation is an easy way to ensure that Harrold's legacy lives on. This is as simple as dropping some coins in Harrold's pedestal as you make a wish or you may like to add a koala to your family tree by adopting a furry bundle of joy. Another great idea is to plant a Koala-friendly eucalypt in memory of Harrold. This is a marvellous way to help replace habitat. (Eighty percent of Koala habitat has been destroyed since European settlement). More helpful tips and conservation ideas are at your fingertips when you log onto www.savethekoala.com
The Australian Koala Foundation has funded millions of dollars worth of pure research and conservation projects. They have also created the Koala Habitat Atlas which helps to track Harrold's surviving chums on a shire to shire basis, providing much needed information to developers, tourist operators, government and the public regarding conservation of the species and its habitat. By supporting the AKF you know that you will be directly contributing to the survival of those that Harrold left behind.
Don't let Harrold's death be in vain. It may be too late for him but there are more beautiful wild Koalas that need our help. When you are in Noosa, visit Harrold. Rub his nose and make a wish and before you go, don't forget to feed him - he gets very hungry!
The way in which Harrold has been embraced and the iconic reputation that surrounds him reflect the Koala's intrinsic value. The looks of love on people's faces when they hug him, feed him, kiss him and talk to him on their trips to Noosa National Park are endless. As the steady flow of people visiting the 'Koala legend' continues, you know that if he could, Harrold would hug them right back and say "Thank you for helping to save my mates".