The plight of a koala that hitched a canoe ride to safety after being stranded on a gum tree in the Murray River has made headlines worldwide after one of its rescuers posted a video online.
La Trobe university students were canoeing past Ulupna Island, near the border of New South Wales and Victoria, when they came across the stranded koala.
“One of the guys was paddling past the tree and the koala was eyeing off the canoe and looked like he was going to try and jump on,” said student Kirra Coventry, who filmed the video.
“That’s when Matt [the canoer] jumped out, pushed the canoe up to the tree, and sure enough he got on.”
In the video the canoe is seen being moved slowly towards the gum tree as the koala eagerly looks down before climbing in and seemingly sitting down on one of the seats.
After the canoe was moved to the riverbank the koala clambered into the trees, before quickly returning to the riverbank and having a five-minute drink of water.
“It must have been out there for a couple of days,” said Chris Townsend, a lecturer in the university’s Outdoor and Environmental Education degree.
“It must have been very thirsty but couldn’t reach the water to drink it.”
Koalas are able to swim, but if they do not have a way to climb out of the water they will eventually drown.
“When he got off onto the shore you could see his back legs were wet, so we think what had happened was that he climbed down and tested the waters,” Ms Coventry said.
“Near the tree the water was moving really, really fast, so for the koala jumping on a conveniently located floating object was much easier.”
Since the video was posted online on Monday night it has since been played on TV news in Russia, the United States, Italy and the UK.
“It’s one of those experiences – in Australia everyone knows about koalas but you don’t really see them every day and you don’t always get to go close up,” said Ms Coventry, for whom this encounter was her first time seeing the cuddly marsupial up close.
The koala rescue was a fitting end to a four-day outdoor educational trip called River Environments, where students learn how to become river guides and interpret the natural environment.
“If we can have some sort of interaction with nature, that’s non-invasive and doesn’t disrupt the environment … this is exactly what we’re looking for,” Mr Townsend said.
“It’s not that often we have a close relationship to an Australian native animal – it’s quite a are thing. It’s a beautiful thing.”