One of the two koala water drinking stations installed at New South Wales’ Crowdy Bay National Park was stolen this week, in what has been described as a “terrible” incident that police are investigating.
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, the facility responsible for distributing these water stations to the national park 271 km northeast of Sydney, was informed of the theft on Monday.
“Isn’t it terrible? We put this water station in to help wildlife and some scumbag’s come and stole it,” the hospital’s Sue Ashton, who also serves as Koala Conservation Australia president, told HuffPost Australia.
“I can’t believe it. Here we are going out into the burnt bushland and in Crowdy Bay National Park it’s really badly burnt, so there’s no vegetation growing back, it’s ash black.”
On Wednesday morning the koala hospital was informed that the $1,450 vessel had been returned to the same spot overnight but was damaged, prompting authorities to continue inquiries.
“Earlier this week, a wildlife water drinking station located at the Crowdy Bay National Park was reported missing to Manning-Great Lakes Police District,” a NSW Police spokesperson told HuffPost Australia.
“An investigation was launched however overnight, the station has been returned to the location. Inquiries are continuing, anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.”
Ashton has urged the public to come forward with any information they may have about the theft, suggesting “somebody must have seen it”.
“The things are so heavy, you need a minimum of two strong men to carry them, probably three. You need a trailer to put it on because they’re about two-and-a-half metres tall and they are really heavy,” she explained.
The damaged metal work and broken hoses will now require a staff member from Port Macquarie to travel an hour to Crowdy Bay National Park to repair the station.
Port Macquarie Hospital’s ‘Help Thirsty Koalas’ GoFundMe page has raised over $7 million that has been used to source these water drinking stations.
“Originally we were going to build 12,” explained Ashton. “From the money we got we increased that to 100, and we think now we’ll do even more because the need is there.”
Five water stations were recently provided to the Blue Mountains region where the Science for Wildlife organisation has been monitoring koalas who have survived bushfires in the area.
According to Dr Kellie Leigh, Executive Director of Science for Wildlife, the need for wildlife water drinking stations is important because “dehydration is a big threat” to koalas this bushfire season.
“On top of the fires, we’ve had this ongoing record-breaking drought and it was only a few weeks ago we broke the heat records as well,” she told HuffPost Australia. “So heat stress and then poor quality habitats means that they’re more likely to drink water.
“Koalas don’t normally drink, they get their moisture out of the leaves, but these habitats now are so dry from the drought and then we get these heat stress days which put more pressure on, so dehydration is a big threat.”
The benefit of drinking stations being installed up in trees is protecting wildlife from predatory species on the ground as well as dangerous conditions.
“You don’t want things like koalas and gliders having to come to ground to get water because then they’re susceptible to foxes and cats,” explained Dr Leigh.
“One of the big concerns is feral or pest species are now a much bigger threat. These fires have taken out all the understory and so for small mammals and anything coming to ground, they’re much more exposed and vulnerable to predation. So that’s why we want to put as many drinkers up.”
Animals such as wallabies and wombats on the other hand benefit from lower drinking stations “protected by grills” that are “fed the same way” according to Port Macquarie’s Ashton.
Earlier this month the RSCPA warned it was “dangerous” for koala rescuers to give the animals water via a drink bottle.
“It can be dangerous to give koalas water poured into their mouth as they are not usually used to drinking, and a volume such as 10-20 mls can be ‘aspirated’, which means the water goes into the lungs instead of the oesophagus,” a RSPCA South Australia spokesperson told 7NEWS, adding, “an animal can die from aspirating fluid”.