25th August 2015: While on Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD tour Wildlife Guide Scott’s Whats App message came through to Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours base:
“K1 (Koala sighting 1) is Misty. K4 is her joey. Both high in a Yellow Gum. Joey is laying across her front”
It was followed by a torrent of whoops, woohoos and thumbs up as our whole Koala Research and Wildlife Guiding team celebrated.
Every year we see koala joeys, so why was this one so special? To explain we have to go back to January 2014, to a week of terrible heat. Four consecutive days over 41C (105.8F). By January 18th, the fourth day, koalas were suffering.
This photo was taken 18th January 2014 and shows the first time we met Misty. She was not a happy koala.
This poor young girl was sitting miserably in a waterhole. And she wasn’t the only one – six other koalas were on the ground over those four days, and another six were sitting in the lower third of their trees. This is an unusually high incidence of ground and low roosting.
Misty was found at 9.45am that day, sitting with her feet in the waterhole. She was checked five times over the next five hours and she barely moved. I came past at 2pm with a lovely group of people on a Koala Conservation Day for Locals. I was shocked by her look of hopelessness.
On this occasion I did something I would not normally do: I asked my volunteers to wait in the car, and I approached Misty with a water spray while they watched. I was hoping that my approach would make her spark up and climb a tree. It didn’t, and that’s when I really knew she was in deep trouble.
A wild koala does not welcome a close approach by a human unless they are severely injured or so heat-stressed they are in danger of dying. Basically, their knowledge of impending death is so great that their fear of humans is cancelled out. Misty was at Stage 5 of the Koala Heat Stress Scale – read about that here: When does a hot koala need help?
So when you see that beautiful photo of Sam the koala being given water by the firefighter – don’t see an appreciative wild animal being helped by a person. See a dying animal that has no choice.
I sprayed the full bottle of water on her, standing back as far as I could and all she did was put her head up. I called Donna from Lara Wildlife Shelter and asked if she could take her into care.
My beautiful volunteers were absolutely quiet and didn’t leave the car all this time. I bet the iPhones and cameras were working overtime!
Misty stayed in care with Donna for 10 days. In that time she was weighed, thoroughly vet checked, and assessed to have nothing wrong with her. I was surprised – could a healthy young koala really be brought so low by a heatwave? Other, older koalas were still alive through this heatwave, without our help. But, interestingly, one joey was looking a bit flat too – maybe it is hard on the young?
She was released to the place she was found, healthy and well, late on 28th January 2014.
Throughout 2014 and 2015 we have seen Misty on and off. At first, she stayed near the little waterhole. Later she was seen moving close to Nova and Elizabeth’s home area. We were thrilled that she was staying around and looking so well!
Then suddenly, in August this year, we got that beautiful message from Wildlife Guide Scott:
“K1 is Misty. K4 is her joey. Both high in a Yellow Gum. Joey is laying across her front”
Not only has Misty survived her ordeal, she has thrived. She has done the greatest thing of all for koala conservation – she has produced the next generation. And we’ve been part of that.
We are very proud ‘grandparents’.
Update 2017: Misty’s first joey Lluvia, a male, thrived, and became independent at around one year old. In July 2016 Misty’s second joey, Cuddles, a female, emerged from her pouch. At January 2017 Cuddles is still with Misty but becoming increasingly independent.