Founded by Jean and Max Starr in 1973, the hospital is entirely self-funded from donations, bequests, adoptions and their kiosk.
It is managed by the charitable organisation, the Koala Preservation Society of Australia Inc., only has three paid positions, 170 volunteers and hosts one overseas volunteer for one month every month - a position that is in very high demand. Facilities include a treatment room, eight internal intensive care units, six outdoor intensive care units and 33 rehabilitation yards.
This unique Hospital not only treats between 250-300 sick and/or injured koalas each year, it successfully rehabilitates and returns about 80% of their admissions to the wild. Primary causes of illness and injuries to koalas are Chlamyidiosis (a virulent bacterial infection that causes 'wet bottom' and conjunctivitis which, if detected in time, can be treated by antibiotics); motor vehicle accidents, dog attacks and the dreaded bushfires, which not only maim and kill koalas but lead to the destruction of their rapidly diminishing habitat and food trees.
Of the 900 species of eucalypt trees that grow in Australia, only 60 of them are 'food trees' so koalas' habitat is determined by the availability of these trees.
Australian Music legend John Williamson is also passionate about saving koalas. John has been a patron of the Koala Preservation Society of Australia ever since he met one of their founders, the late Jean Starr, in the early eighties. During a visit to the Koala Hospital, he witnessed an emergency rescue call come in. The entire experience was so impressive for John that it inspired him to write the song "Good Bye Blinky Bill", which became enormously popular throughout Australia. He very generously donated the proceeds from his song to the Koala Preservation Society. John raised a considerable amount of money that enabled the Koala Hospital to build a new "John Williamson Wing" which houses their intensive care unit.
Visitors to the Koala Hospital can view the treatment room through a large window and see the koalas being treated. You can also observe the recovery, care and feeding of the koalas.The Koala Hospital is open daily from 8am until 4.30pm with feeding times at 8am and 3pm. Walk & Talk tours are conducted at 3pm daily where the koalas will be fed and the volunteer will explain how the koalas came into their care. Admission is free and donations are welcome - you can even adopt a koala! Located at Lord St and Roto Place, Port Macquarie. Phone 02 6584 1522, koalahospital.org.au
How long have you been breeding Koalas?
For more than 30 years now my passion for Koalas has grown and grown. When I first received koalas from another wildlife sanctuary (nearly 40 years ago) I was working for my parents who owned and operated their own wildlife park in Nowra NSW. Once the Koalas arrived my fascination grew and grew and it wasn't long then I looked to breed these amazing and unique animals.
Why start the breeding program?
Shortly after getting the Koalas, (and I had done a lot of training prior to their arrival), the next obvious hurdle was to successfully and consistently breed them. Back in those days there wasn't a lot of information readily available out there on Koalas, there were a lot of people trying different things and they too were looking for solid and reliable information on them. It seemed every time I came across or close to the answer on Koalas I was looking for, I had even more questions! I desperately wanted to understand how to care and look after Koalas at the highest possible level so as to have the best chance of breeding them, and some day be able to help other institutions with their breeding programs and maybe even help our wild population.
Why is the program important?
We know more and more now how endangered the Koala has become. Without our knowledge of breeding and husbandry ideas and the requirements that are so important to Koalas, how will we protect them in the wild? Our knowledge gained from captive Koala colonies can be used to work with and help wild Koala populations.
We know what Koalas need to survive, what their limitations are and what they need for protection in the wild. Our captive population of Koalas
at Billabong not only give us Knowledge and better understanding, we believe they are ambassadors for their species, helping us in so many ways to help Koalas in the wild. We are able to educate the public about the plight of these beautiful animals in the wild, and what we need to
do to ensure their survival, obviously Koala breeding is so important to their survival. If we remove certain elements then they won't breed and therefore the species is doomed before we even start. There is no point in protecting an area if we don't know that within that area the animals are going to be safe, secure and able to reproduce.
What is the difference between the Koalas you breed and wild Koalas?
Obviously in captivity, the problems that exist in the wild for Koalas, the battles they face, whether it's dog attacks, cars, or loss of habitat, are removed. So we can significantly increase both the lifespan of the Koala and the breeding potential of that animal in captivity. We work within a program and look forward to a situation where we could potentially one day breed animals in captivity that are specifically bred for release. This means that those animals would have very little contact with humans or dogs and any other household situations so that they wouldn't become complacent and would therefore have a greater success of being released back into the wild.
How many Koalas do you have in the program?
I normally keep about 20 Koalas in our population here which obviously fluctuates up and down. We are heavily involved in our program this year to increase our numbers because there is potential need for other institutions to acquire Koalas. I'm hoping to increase our breeding program in the near future as the need is increasing for a larger, more sustainable captive population.
For more information about Billabong Zoo, please visit their website www.billabongzoo.com.au
I thought of the idea for a sculpture trail in Port Macquarie in 2011, after moving from Sydney, following a lifetime working in tourism and the arts. The Sydney Opera House and Art Gallery of NSW were my second homes in those days.
Now life has come full circle as I look after a public art trail in my regional hometown and take my Hello Koalas to Sydney for a travelling exhibition in the Royal Botanic Garden (October/November 2019). Other tour exhibitions are planned in Canberra, Victoria, Queensland and regional NSW in 2020/2021.
And we have consistently won business and tourism awards since 2015 including the 2019 Regional Business Award for Excellence in Innovation and Gold for Cultural Tourism in the NSW Regional Tourism Awards.
We estimate that over 1 million people a year engage with our Hello Koalas sculptures in Port Macquarie hugging them, smiling at them, taking selfies and family photos with them and talking about them on facebook, Instagram and TripAdvisor (#hellokoalas, @hellokoalas).
TripAdvisor ranks Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail #3 of 44 Things to Do (after the Coastal Walk and Koala Hospital) and #1 Landmark in Port Macquarie.
This social media coverage reinforces that the Hello Koalas sculptures are such wondrous little characters, designed by hugely talented Australian artists. And the sculptures love receiving the attention!
In fact, many people who see our Hello Koalas see them as loveable personalities and it is not unusual to find small children feeding them fallen gum leaves for lunch. Fortunately for Port Macquarie we have lots of real koalas too and plenty of gum trees.
When we started planning the Trail, we aimed to create 50 one metre high fibreglass sculptures but Hello Koalas is an infectious project and we now have 75 sculptures to share with our community and visitors to our region. And more are on their way in local artists' studios.
Sometimes our Hello Koalas sculptures go on Tour so not all are available to see when people visit but there are always 50 koalas on view. We keep people aware of their movements on our website www.hellokoalas.com and we have a 24/7 Hotline so people can email (firstname.lastname@example.org), text or phone us with their queries (0416 641 482).
For our annual Hello Koalas Festival over the June Long Weekend, we gather all our 75 sculptures for display in Port Macquarie so people have a guaranteed opportunity to see every sculpture on the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail once a year (www.hellokoalas.com/gallery).
A Festival highlight is the 2 day Hello Koalas Treasure Hunt and this year it will be held over Saturday and Sunday (7 and 8 June 2020).
Discover 20 specially selected Hello Koalas and post your favourites on social media. It's free to enter and everyone who completes the Treasure Hunt is awarded a Certificate of Achievement. Simply register online to participate (www.hellokoalas.com/festival).
One of our aims with the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail is to promote koala preservation. We want to protect koalas from road accidents, inquisitive dogs in backyards, loss of habitat through urbanisation and drought, and diseases like chlamydia. Another event we have created for our annual Hello Koalas Festival is "Cars for Koalas Show and Shine", a display of classic and vintage cars at the Foreshore Markets, Westport Park, on the Saturday of the June Long Weekend - this year 7 June. Trophies are sponsored by Shannons Insurance.
We hope to remind people to slow down when driving in areas where koalas live in our town and raise funds for our acclaimed Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie where people can see 4 Hello Koalas sculptures all ambassadors for koala conservation.
And there is a special display of Hello Koalas sculptures and Hello Koalas memorabilia, including colouring books, magnets and T towels at these popular Markets too.
Pick up a FREE Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail Guide at the Glasshouse, hotels and attractions around town and or download a pdf of the Guide from www.hellokoalas.com.
While many visitors aim to see all the koalas, people in town for a short time can still enjoy the Trail, with around 10 sculptures located right in the heart of town and a further 20 sculptures a short drive away, in places like Sea Acres Rainforest Centre, where you can also see a great selection of Hello Koalas memorabilia and gifts. Or visit our Hello Koalas online shop for year-round shopping from home (www.hellokoalas.com/shop).