SUGGESTION: Print this out and place in your car glovebox in the event that you encounter a sick, injured or dead Koala while out driving. Also include the contact details of your local carer, vet or wildlife authority. The animal will have a better chance of survival if you have that information in advance.
If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where Koalas also live, you have a responsibility to do everything in your power to ensure that they are safe and receive proper medical attention when they are sick or injured. The following are some guidelines on what to do if you come across an animal in distress.
When to call or help
Don’t immediately think the worst if you encounter a Koala in your neighbourhood for the first time. Koalas move around for a number of different reasons, and may be just visiting your garden or local park for a short time or be trying to set up a home range. It is illegal to catch, transport or interfere with a Koala unless it is in distress and in need of human assistance. If in doubt, contact your local carer, wildlife group or wildlife authority.
Observe the Koala over a period of time. Restrain any dogs in the area and warn your neighbours that a Koala is nearby so that they can do the same.
Sick or injured koalas may show some of the following symptoms:
- Puffy or inflamed eyes which may have a crust or a weepy discharge surrounding them;
- Dribbling saliva from the mouth;
- Fur that appears constantly wet or matted;
- A dirty tail with brown staining;
- Weakness or unusual behaviour;
- Remaining in the same tree for more than a few days;
- Sitting on the ground or very low down in a tree and not moving when approached. (This may indicate that the animal is too weak to climb);
- Not using all four limbs normally while walking or climbing;
- Very skinny and emaciated appearance;
- Signs of trauma such as cuts or blood on fur.
Signs of a dog attack could be wet, matted fur from the dog’s saliva, and bleeding. Because Koalas have very little fat under their skin, their internal organs can be easily punctured by the sharp teeth of a dog even though there may be very little damage to the skin surface, so if you find a Koala which you suspect has been the victim of a dog attack, it is very important that the animal is assessed by a vet or carer.
Follow the instructions below for road injuries in handling sick or orphaned Koalas or Koalas which have been attacked by dogs or injured in some other way. However, unless the Koala is in immediate danger, it is better to leave it to the experts to catch it if they think it necessary.
If you deliver a sick or injured animal to a carer or vet, it is important to let them know where the Koala was found so that the correct decision can be made on a release site when the animal recovers.
For road injuries:
- Pull off the road safely. If possible, phone your local carer for instructions.
- Make sure it is safe before you go onto the road to attend to the animal. Stop any traffic if necessary.
- Approach the animal carefully from behind.
- Place a sack, blanket, towel or box over the Koala, enclosing its arms and head. Remember, the Koala is frightened and has very sharp claws, so be careful. Injured or orphaned animals need immediate dark, warmth and quiet. They may never have been touched by humans and any stress can cause further injury and death from shock. You also may be injured.
- Move the animal to a safe place away from any traffic.
- Handle the Koala as little as possible and keep the environment quiet. Keep it safe until help arrives or you get it to a Vet or Carer.
- Keep people and dogs away from the animal. Do not allow people to peek at or touch it.
- Do not try to feed the Koala or give it anything to drink.
- Get the Koala to a Vet, Carer or wildlife authority as soon as possible.
What if you find a dead Koala?
Although it is too late to do anything to help a dead Koala, it is a good idea to notify your local Koala or wildlife group or wildlife authority about it. Some keep records of sick or dead Koalas as a way of monitoring the size and health of local Koala populations. Look for ear tags. Some Koalas have ear tags placed by wildlife authorites or researchers so it is important that they are notified of the death.
It is illegal to be in possession of a dead Koala or any part of a Koala skeleton without a permit.
Always check in the pouch of a dead female Koala for the presence of a joey which may have survived. This is important for all marsupials like wombats, kangaroos, possums etc.
What if I find a joey in the pouch of a dead mother Koala?
If you have the phone number of a carer, vet or the relevant wildife authority, call them to ask for instructions on what to do. If not, follow the procedure below:
- If the joey is still attached to the teat, do not remove it as you may cause injury to the tiny baby. Get the dead mother and joey to a vet,or carer as soon as possible.
- If the joey is not attached, gently remove it from the pouch and wrap it in a towel or article of clothing and place it somewhere warm, such as under your jumper. (Very young joeys rely on their mother’s body heat for warmth.) Alternatively use a warm hot water bottle or a plastic bottle filled with warm water. Use warm, not hot, water and cover the bottle with a jumper or other fabric so that you do not overheat or burn the joey. A backpack lined with soft towels or fabric is a good way to transport the infant.
- Handle the infant as little as possible and do not let other people peek at it or handle it. Remember, these tiny infants can die very easily from stress and noise.
- Do not give the joey anything to drink. Young Koalas need a specialised diet and feeding the wrong formula could cause the infant to die.
- Get the joey to a vet or carer as soon as possible.