An adorable photo of a koala wandering along North Haven Beach in Port Macquarie, NSW has gone viral, but it’s cause for concern for wildlife carers.
The sweet photo, taken on Monday afternoon, shows the koala perched on the sand at the northern NSW beach as it stares curiously at the camera.
Its cocked ears and fluffy body are a surprising contrast against the golden sand and blue ocean behind it.
The image was shared to Facebook by Sheldon Young, who runs the Beach Break Cafe next to North Haven Beach. Mr Young said he and his customers noticed the endangered species wandering around on the sand before it took a stroll under the chairs and tables of a nearby cafe.
“Just a Koala chillin’ at North Haven…” Mr Young captioned the photo, which was liked almost 800 times.
A second photo showed the koala on its journey, cruising between the legs of tables and chairs.
“As we looked out onto the beach, we saw something a little bit strange. It was a koala walking along the sand, looking very mellow, very happy,” Mr Young explained.
“It certainly did not look distressed, and sat down on the sand.
“Koalas appearing on North Haven Beach has happened before, but not as regular as say the dolphins or the whales.
“He said ‘hello’ to everybody and then wandered off, and went around the back of the surf club”
Koala a “young male” named Luke
But the photo has reignited concern among wildlife carers, who say it reveals the devastating habitat loss koalas have suffered in recent decades.
Mr Young said he and a group of staff and guests went down to the beach to ensure there were no dogs in the area that might hurt the furry visitor, before they called the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital and wildlife rescue organisation FAWNA.
A team from the koala hospital arrived shortly thereafter and took the koala into care. He has been named Luke, after the person who contacted the hospital about him.
Veterinarian Shali Fischer said the koala appeared to be a “relatively healthy” young male and would stay in care for a few days.
“Koalas don’t like being exposed and they generally like to be high in the trees, so seeing one on the beach with people around is really unusual,” she told the ABC.
Dr Fischer said the koala was looking “quite well” but had some gastrointestinal issues, for which it was now being treated.
She said the koala would be given a full health check to rule out any other health concerns before being released back into his local habitat later this week.
Habitat loss devastates koala population
Dr Fischer said the discovery of a koala on an exposed beach was a further indication of the need to protect and increase koala habitat areas through initiatives such as tree planting.
“With increased pressure on their habitats and the lack of connectivity between habitats for them, they are forced to go into very urbanised areas and there they are put under stress through cars, people, pets,” she said.
“We had another koala today that was caught in a fence, so we are seeing this more and more now unfortunately.”
Last year, koalas were officially listed as “endangered” in Queensland, NSW and the ACT.
Numbers of koalas have plummeted across the three states and territories, their decline exacerbated by prolonged drought, Black Summer bushfires and impacts of disease, urbanisation and habitat loss.
Dr Fischer asked anyone who spots a koala in an unusual place to contact a wildlife carer.
“It’s a key issue we are seeing everywhere, not just on the Mid North Coast,” she said.
“These poor koalas, when they’re forced into small, fragmented habitats, are more susceptible to diseases, being hit by a car and dog attacks.
“If they had more habitat, they wouldn’t need the koala hospital.”