Three months ago, the Australian Reptile Park’s own “koala whisperer”, Life Sciences Manager Hayley Shute, took on the role of surrogate mother to the tiniest koala joey ever hand-raised at the Park.
Weighing a mere 200g when rescued, the adorable joey affectionately named Albert is now thriving.
He has made remarkable progress under Shute’s dedicated care, now tipping the scales at a healthy 1kg.
The mother of three provided care for the joey around the clock, including bottle feeds of special milk formula throughout the day and night.
“My life has never been busier,” she said.
“Albert goes with me everywhere I go, including to the shops and to work.
“Right after work, I’m coming home to my beautiful family, getting dinner started, helping the kids with their homework and then I’m preparing bottles and feeding Albert.
“It’s definitely like having a newborn baby all over again.
“Thankfully, I have a few extra hands to help me this time – the kids just love having a koala in the house.”
Despite the challenges, Shute’s commitment to Albert’s wellbeing has paid off.
“It’s so worth it, because Albert is going from strength to strength,” she said.
“In the three months that I’ve been caring for him, he’s put on a healthy amount of weight, has started eating eucalyptus leaves and now he’s even learning how to climb trees.”
Albert went into Shute’s care when the team noticed that the Park’s most famous koala, Elsa, had fallen ill whilst carrying a small, vulnerable joey.
Keepers were quick to act, intervening and removing the joey from mum at just the right time so both Elsa and her joey could have a second chance at life.
Albert will stay under the care of Shute over the next few months.
He will need to be slowly reintroduced to the rest of the koalas at the Australian Reptile Park, and soon enough, he will be reunited with his mum, Elsa.
As a species in peril, koalas need help now more than ever as they are estimated to become extinct by 2050.
The Australian Reptile Park continues to breed koalas in an effort to help boost population numbers for the endangered species and educate Australians about koalas.