Greater Sydney's largest purpose-built koala rehabilitation centre has welcomed its first patient, 'Monty Colo' from Upper Colo on the fringes of the city's north-west.
Blinded by chlamydia, a disease plaguing Australia's koala populations, the young buck was found by a Colo resident at the base of a tree in late September.
He's been treated by koala carer Morgan Philpott and Vineyard vet Dr Luke Smith ever since, but today explored his new home at a new koala facility in Richmond built by wildlife rescue group WIRES with donations from the devastating 2019-20 bushfires.
WIRES koala carer Mr Philpott said Monty would spend at least six weeks at Richmond on a course of strong antibiotics to treat the chlamydia. It's hopeful, but not certain, that he'll survive the treatment.
"I hope so. You never can tell," Mr Philpott said.
The new facility fills a gap for the growing number of sick and injured koalas sent to specialised carers for help which are often looked after on private land or transported as far away as Port Macquarie.
"Every year we've been getting more and more," Mr Philpott said.
"Last year we were overwhelmed. We had to offload koalas because we had too many."
Unlike most koala populations, the Blue Mountains colony is actually growing. But like many native animals living on city fringes they're under constant threat from urbanisation, fast cars and disease.
"They're facing an uphill battle," he said. "We keep cutting down their habitat to put more houses in and with more houses comes more cars and more dogs. All these things are very bad for koalas."
WIRES chief executive Leanne Taylor said the new centre, which is housed on Western Sydney University land, will allow wildlife rescuers to respond quickly when the next inevitable disaster strikes.
"We knew that the population of koalas in the Hawkesbury and greater Blue Mountains area is significant and it's important and we needed to have capacity to house a number of koalas should we face future disasters," she said.
She said she hopes it's the first of many such facilities. "We need to do whatever it takes to save that species," Ms Taylor said.
Macquarie Labor MP Susan Templeton said she was in awe of the work WIRES did and federal and state governments could do more to help, especially by tackling climate change and addressing habitat loss.
"I think what we saw in the last fires is that we have a complete lack of facilities for emergency use but also post-fire for the rehabilitation of koalas," Ms Templeman said.
"Do we want our grandkids and our great-grandkids to be able to see koalas in their natural habitat?"
Ms Templeman called for the NSW Government to erect signs on Bells Line of Road, which crosses the Blue Mountains between Richmond and Lithgow, to warn drivers about koalas in the area, especially during breeding season.
Wildlife advocacy groups have in December called on the NSW government to release a promised strategy they hope will give greater protections to koalas.