Real Life

REAL LIFE: Meet the amazing women saving our koalas from extinction

An Australia without koalas would be a sad country indeed. But extinction could become a scary reality. These two inspiring women tell how to help protect them.

By Mitchell Jordan

Mish Simpson, 35, from Adelaide, SA, shares her story:

My husband, Wade, and I walked through the blackened bushland with our team of volunteers, breathing in the smell of the recent fire.
Earlier that day, we'd been called out to rescue a koala that was stuck in a burning tree; but once the flames had died down we'd returned, knowing there could be other animals that needed our help.
Wade and I run Southern Koala Rescue and are devoted to saving as many of the furry marsupials as we can.
Just as I thought, the koala we'd rescued wasn't the only one.
"Look there," I said to Wade, pointing to a burnt bush where I spotted a koala with an inflamed and infected wound the size of a 20-cent piece on its neck.
Using hoops on the end of poles, we coaxed the koala down and put it in a carrier before taking it to a vet.
The wound needed minor surgery and, afterwards, the koala we'd named Claire had to stay indoors to keep flies off the injury.
My husband Wade and I run Southern Koala Rescue. (Image: Supplied)
Claire was frightened of me at first, but after four weeks I'd gained her trust.
She was ready to go outside to build up enough muscle movement to be released back into the wild.
This was one of the most satisfying parts of my job because, sadly, not all koalas can be saved.
"Don't you miss them when they're gone?" people ask.
"They're not meant to be pets," I respond.
One koala, Harry, who I rescued late last year has become a permanent fixture at Southern Koala Rescue.
He was found by rural property owners in a puddle when he was a joey.
Without his mum, he would have frozen.
But even with all our care, Harry wouldn't survive in the bush.
He has hip dysplasia and never developed adult fur.
I use him in my talks to those who visit us and explain why it's so important we look after our koalas.
Sadly, extinction is a very real possibility – especially after the Black Summer fires which razed so much of the country from 2019-20.
One of the easiest ways you can help koalas, and other native animals, is by leaving a dish of water in your backyard.
It could just save a life and that's a lot.
I love helping koalas. (Image: Supplied)

Sarah Eccleston, 40, from the Gold Coast, Qld, shares her story:

I was walking through the bush when, suddenly, the baby koala came hurtling through the sky.
Through quick thinking, I managed to catch it in my arms with just a few scratches to my skin.
"Oh Doodah, are you excited to see me today?" I asked the koala, pulling him in for a hug.
Doodah, a joey, was just one of the many koalas that had come into my care.
And while I might be his favourite person, I loved all of these animals equally.
Times like this I really had to pinch myself to believe this was my life.
Ever since I was a girl, I'd loved animals and at 18 had started work at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary as a leaf collector.
Selecting leaves for the koalas brought me so much joy as the koalas depended on them for food.
Through hard work and dedication, I eventually became a koala specialist, which saw me working in China and Taiwan, where I was involved in koala-breeding programs.
I've written a book to help our koalas. (Image: Supplied)
I also became a mum and gave birth to a son, Jett, who I call my little joey.
Growing up around wildlife, he's always been with koalas and comes out spotting them with me.
Jett, 10, has got his heart set on being a zookeeper.
But we've both become concerned over the plight of our beloved 
Aussie icon.
I knew the best way to stop them going extinct was to educate the young because the future really is theirs.
So I wrote a children's book, Have You Seen A Tree For Me?, which I hope will help them understand we've got to protect our beloved wildlife.
There are lots of simple things kids can do to start helping now: keep dogs and cats locked away from wildlife, plant a tree that will encourage native animals to visit, and remind your family to drive slowly in wildlife habitats and areas.
That might only sound minor, but if we all do this, it can make a big difference.
I tell everyone that an Australia without koalas just wouldn't be Australia.
And I'll do everything I can to make sure there's always a tree for them.

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