The day started out with a routine job for coast guards Sean Hannam and Gary Sissons. It quickly took a turn for the unusual, however, when they saw something on a mooring. The furry object was indistinguishable from a stuffed toy, right up until it started moving.
Sean Hannam from Melbourne, Australia, is a busy man, who juggles two responsibilities. To begin with, he’s the manager of company called Ollie Designs that makes and installs signs. But that’s not his only job; he’s also a volunteer coast guard.
The Australian Volunteer Coast Guard (AVCG) was actually founded way back in 1961. It survives purely with the aid of people such as Hannam, who dedicate their free time to helping others. The AVCG performs a variety of operations, including aiding other vehicles and running search and rescue.
Hannam and his colleague Gary Sissons volunteer from Hastings, which is where their adventure began on October 8, 2017. The pair’s first job that morning was towing another vehicle to the nearby town of Warneet. Their next rescue, however, was anything but ordinary.
While the coast guards were on their boat, they spotted something unusual in the water. The furry object clung to a wooden mooring, but the crew couldn’t quite make out what it was. Initially, they thought it was a discarded toy.
As they got closer, however, it quickly became clear the object was alive. Hannam described the event to The Mornington Peninsula News on October 20, 2017. “I saw the koala on the mooring and at first thought it was a stuffed toy,” he recounted.
It would seem that the koala swam to the moorings, and then became too exhausted to continue its journey. Koalas can actually swim, but they find it difficult to get out of bodies of water. They have even been known to drown in swimming pools for just that reason.
Without something to cling onto, koalas often get stuck in water, become exhausted and end up drowning. The koala on the mooring was lucky the coast guards spotted it. Without their help, it’s unlikely the koala could have gotten back to dry land.
With that in mind, the coast guards couldn’t just let the poor creature die and decided to assist it. Not only was that a big-hearted decision, it was also a brave one. Despite looking adorable, koalas – like many wild animals – can actually be dangerous.
Koalas generally only attack if they feel threatened or scared, but there are cases of violent encounters. For example, on December 3, 2014, 7 News reported a particularly nasty attack. The victim – a woman named Mary Anne Forster – is also coincidentally from Melbourne.
Forster was walking her dogs when they dragged her near a koala by a tree. The passersby must have spooked the marsupial, because it attacked her aggressively. Her wounds were so bad that Forster had to go to hospital, where she got 12 stitches in her leg as a result of the encounter.
The threat from koalas doesn’t end there, either; they also carry communicable diseases. On February 11, 2016, professor of infectious diseases David Wilson informed BBC Earth that roughly half of Australia’s koalas carry chlamydia. It’s a different variant to the human strain, but regardless, humans are still at risk.
To be more specific, if the animal’s urine touches a person, they may catch the koala chlamydia disease. Even knowing these risks, though, the coast guards still went above and beyond the call of duty. They were determined to rescue the threatened animal regardless.
It was a surprisingly simple rescue. Hannam told The Mornington Peninsula News, “We turned the engine off, and I threw a blanket over him while I was standing on the ladder at the back of the boat. The rest of the crew stood on the side to balance the boat.”
With the koala safely covered in the blanket, the crew lifted it on board. “The koala didn’t struggle, and we took him ashore and released him on Quail Island,” Hannam reported. Once the Koala was on dry land, he shook off the blankets and wandered off.
Before he went out of sight, though, he took one last look back at his rescuers before leaving. “I lost two fingers and have scratch marks from head to toe, but he got to walk away gracefully,” Hannam joked on Facebook later that day. “Those drop bears are viscous [sic].”
Hannam said it’s not the first koala found in those waters; however, it is the first one he’s rescued. Even so, Jeremy West – Westernport coast guard’s commander – said it had been an unusual rescue. He spoke to the Herald Sun about the event on October 8, 2017.
“It was pretty surprising – it’s not every day you come across a koala in the water,” West said. “The koala looked pretty happy when it was back on the land.” And he wasn’t the only pleased one; animal lovers on social media were too.
One person commented on Hannam’s Facebook page, “Oh wow, poor little guy! Great work!” Hannam replied simply with, “[It’s] just the conservationist in me.” With those words, he highlighted the fact that the koala species are actually at risk.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has ranked koalas as “vulnerable” on its Red List. Habitat loss, urban incidents and the previously mentioned chlamydia have played their parts in destroying koala numbers. Thanks to the AVCG though, one more koala lives to see another day.