3 Nov 2020


Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of a koala carer looked like? We’ve got the scoop for you! Introducing one of the many selfless and loving carers, Claire Phillips. Claire, along with Peter and Trudi, are part of the Ipswich Koala Protection Society (IKPS). Together, they look after the orphaned koala joeys - Eli and Annie-Sue day in, day out, while working and if that wasn’t impressive enough - they also run two dedicated koala and wildlife ambulances services 24/7 and do over 180 koala rescues a year!

Some of you may think being a koala carer would be the best job ever, and you would be right to think so. I mean you get to cuddle cheeky, fluffy joeys and koalas whenever you want. What you might not know is that Claire, Trudi and Peter work around the clock and there are some really devastating moments along the way.

Annie-Sue and Eli have had quite the traumatic experience entering this world, but they’re so lucky to have been saved by the carers at the Ipswich Koala Protection Society. Claire’s passion for caring for koalas stemmed from studying koalas in the wild and being a vet. Once Claire saw the koalas out in the wild, she saw the bigger picture. After her first rescue with Trudi, and after seeing the rehab aspects of the job, she was hooked.  

Orphaned koala joeys= Geno= Annie-Sue and Eli in care in the nursery at koala carer -Trudi’s home
© WWF-Australia

Find out how you can help koalas like Eli and Annie-Sue

That brings us up to present day. Let’s give you a glimpse into a typical day in the life of a koala carer which disclaimer - is certainly a full-time job. Their days are spent carrying out four hourly feeds between 6.00 am and 10.00 pm and in between the carers are out cleaning, finding fresh leaf (as koalas are notoriously fussy eaters), cutting it up then changing it over once they get back to home base. As you might guess there’s a lot of driving involved. Sometimes these carers can be gone for hours driving just one way to find the right leaf. As you can imagine, a support network is key, and thankfully, Trudi and Claire cover one another for the night time feeds if someone has work the next day. Night time feeds are definitely exhausting, but the silver lining is at 2.00 am when you’ve got Annie-Sue or Eli staring up at you lovingly. Granted they probably just want their milk, but Claire says that gaze takes the tired away.

Let’s get to know the joeys a little bit better. Annie-Sue is not your typical girl as most female joeys are sassy, stand-offish and don’t really want a lot of attention. Annie-Sue misses her mum greatly and wants cuddles and snuggles every minute of every day (which I’m sure any one of us would happily volunteer to do). Claire said that if they put Annie-Sue into her climbing tree, she then reaches out immediately for more cuddles and if you knew koalas, you would know that that’s just not typical girl behaviour. The best way to describe her is ‘beautiful and adorable’, more like a boy personality-wise plus she’s very chilled out.

Eli, on the other hand, a typical boy - aka a sook. Eli was quite naughty when he first came into care and would cry all night because he just wanted to sit in a tree. What Eli didn’t realise is that he was a bit too small to be sitting in a tree 24/7. His crying eventually paid off as the carers got to the stage where they put the cage next to the tree. He would climb up, play about, then just put himself back to bed when he got tired.

Let’s recap the circumstances that brought Eli into care which are incredibly heartbreaking. Eli was brought into the Queensland RSPCA wildlife hospital because he was found with his deceased mum. She was found at the bottom of a tree with a broken leg, and was still warm so had only died recently. She was severely dehydrated, which is a terribly painful and slow way for her to go. The flip side is that Eli survived because of her. He’d been found going up and down the tree, which for the size that he was, is not what a young joey does. Eli had learnt that for him to survive, he had to go up and find that leaf. So that’s exactly what he did. He went up the tree, found and ate leaf, came back down and drank whatever milk mum had. Eli is extremely lucky to have been found and to be alive. As for his mum, the suspicion is that she has passed away when she fell from the tree, most likely due to mating season. They think she was harassed by a male and knocked out of the tree which is unfortunately common.

Claire Phillips with two orphaned koala joeys
© WWF-Australia

Sadly, how Annie-Sue came into care isn’t any happier of a story than Eli’s and a very hard story for Claire to share with us. Annie-Sue comes from a koala population that Claire and Trudi track and know well. They saw Annie-Sue grow from the pouch - the first time she stuck her tiny, adorable head out and the first time she hopped. One day, Claire and Trudi noticed that Annie-Sue’s mum, Miss Piggy, didn’t look too good, so they flagged her down the tree to have a feel of her body condition. She was thin, very thin.

The carers took Miss Piggy to the hospital and at that point Annie-Sue had to say goodbye to her mum. Annie-Sue had to be separated in order to be taken into care and to give Missy Piggy all the attention and assistance she needed to survive. As a vet, Claire did her absolute best to look after Miss Piggy at the hospital, but heartbreakingly, Missy Piggy didn’t survive. To this day, they don’t have an answer for why she died or what went wrong. She got sick, and they just couldn’t fix it. Claire looks at the silver lining, if they hadn’t been out there monitoring the area, they wouldn’t have found Miss Piggy, noticed her behaviours or the state of her health. Because of all that, Annie-Sue survived, despite the odds.

While both the koala joeys and the carers have been through a lot of ups and downs, the great news is that Annie-Sue and Eli have significantly improved since being in care. Annie-Sue has just packed on the weight and gone from strength to strength. She eats so well now, loves her milk and is always climbing and jumping around. Eli has also turned a corner from being naughty when it came to eating leaf and no longer needing to take medication. Overall, both babies are thriving in care, and it truly is a sight to see.

WWF-Australia proudly supports a number of operations like the Ipswich Koala Protection Society (IPKS) as their team of dedicated carers provide ongoing care and medical treatment to sick and injured koalas so that joeys like Annie-Sue and Eli can eventually be returned to the wild.

Right now koalas face numerous threats including bushfires, disease, droughts and heatwaves, and the destruction and fragmentation of their habitat. At this rate, koalas across eastern Australia are on the path to extinction by 2050. At WWF-Australia, we have a bold vision: to double the number of koalas in eastern Australia by 2050 as part of our “Koalas Forever” campaign. Our vision to #RegenerateAustralia is ambitious but critical and can’t be achieved without your help. Join us in reimagining, restoring and revitalising our continent.