Sad twist in tale of Claude the nursery rampaging koala

Five weeks ago, a stroppy koala named Claude became an internet sensation after he was sprung chomping through several thousand dollars’ worth of saplings at a New South Wales nursery.

Now there’s an update to the massive marsupial’s antics, with CCTV footage revealing he’s returned to the scene of his crime – with a partner.

Claude, whose moniker was inspired by his oversized claws, is still carrying out late-night rampages at the Eastern Forest Nursery near Lismore in the Northern Rivers.

But his partner and their little joey are also regularly tagging along, captured on four occasions in September and October by a sensory camera erected by the World Wildlife Fund.

“I think Claude has introduced his partner and joey to the all-you-can-eat buffet, now that she’s eating for two,” nursery owner Humphrey Herrington said.

Eastern Forest grows eucalyptus seedlings for WWF-Australia’s koala habitat restoration projects, but the leaf thieves are a little too eager to make use of the good work.

“While Claude’s antics have amused people around the world there’s a big problem behind his behaviour,” Mr Herrington said.

“We have a desperate need for more koala food trees. South Gundurimba, where my nursery is located, was heavily cleared in the past.”

At any given time, up to 12 koalas can be found in the tiny strip of mature eucalypts that border the nursery, and many of those trees show signs of being overgrazed.

So, while Claude’s daring antics make for adorable internet fodder, WWF-Australia’s senior manager of koala recovery Tanya Pritchard said they mask a sad truth.

“Koalas don’t have enough to eat so they’re raiding seedlings, and cramming into the nursery’s perimeter trees,” Ms Pritchard said.

“It’s a big concern. To Regenerate Nature by 2030, and save koalas, we need to create more habitat.”

WWF-Australia is now in talks with the landholder directly opposite the nursery about planting Claude’s dinner leftovers on the property, she said.

Some of Claude’s leftovers can’t be saved but some 3200 are recovering. They’re no longer suitable for sale though so the nursery has donated them to WWF-Australia.

The group is now fundraising to help cover the costs of the damaged plants, as well as watering and maintaining the leftovers for the next two years until they can become established.

Since Claude was first sprung rampaging through supplies, he and his partners in crime have munched on 4050 seedlings worth about $8000.

He seems to have a broad palate too, with species including red gum, flooded gum, tallow wood, brush box, swamp box, Sydney blue gum, silver-leaved iron bark and grey gum.

Claude has also become more brazen, with a daylight raid taking place on Saturday 16 September.

He waited until no workers were around to sneak in and gorge on seedlings for more than 45 minutes, security footage shows.

Last year, the New South Wales declared koalas an endangered species, with the beloved Aussie icon at risk of becoming extinct.

Over the past two decades, the number of koalas in the states has fallen by an estimated 50 per cent, although the Black Summer bushfires in 2019-20 will have ongoing impacts for years to come.

The National Parks Association of NSW said historical accounts from the time of European settlement show koalas were abundant along Australia’s east coast.

“Hunting, coupled with rapid habitat loss and fragmentation via land clearing and urban development, has resulted in dramatic falls in koala numbers,” it said.

“Almost every population on the east coast is in decline. In the Bega Valley in southern NSW, a population that used to support a pelt industry in the late 19th Century has been reduced to under 100 due to land clearing, intensive logging and climate change.

“Now, people in NSW are lucky if they see a koala in the wild during their life.”

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