Koalas get second chance thanks to volunteer rescuer

Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice president Marilyn Spletter of Hatton Vale with the two koala's she is currently caring for Haylo (left) and Webcke. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times
Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice president Marilyn Spletter of Hatton Vale with the two koala's she is currently caring for Haylo (left) and Webcke. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times David Nielsen

MARILYN Spletter has saved the lives of more than 70 orphaned koalas.

The 66-year-old has been a volunteer wildlife rescuer with the Moggill Koala Hospital and Ipswich Koala Protection Society for 22 years.

Each year more than 180 sick, injured and orphaned koalas are rescued by the small team of dedicated carers, who travel some 20,000km to save their lives.

The mammals have become a huge part of Mrs Spletter's life that she even built her Hatton Vale home around a purpose-built koala room.

She is currently caring for 14-month-old Webcke and 11-month-old Haylo. She calls them her babies and they think she is mum.

Little Webcke was rescued from Mutdapilly in December. Weighing only one kilogram, he had perforated lungs after falling out of a tree.

"He had a 50-50 chance of surviving," Mrs Spletter says, as she bottle feeds him in her arms.

"We think mum might have dropped him out of the tree, which can damage the lungs.

"When we get people ring up saying they've got a baby koala in their backyard, we always ask if it is bigger or smaller than a football. If it's smaller than a football we know it's a baby and it needs our help"

Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice president Marilyn Spletter of Hatton Vale with the two koala's she is currently caring for Webcke and Haylo. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times
Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice president Marilyn Spletter of Hatton Vale with the two koala's she is currently caring for Webcke and Haylo. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times David Nielsen

That's how Webcke got his name.

Six months since he was rescued, Webcke is healthy at 2.25kg and is almost ready to go back into the wild.

"This is his only bottle and only cuddle," the grandmother of nine says.

"He's got to learn to have no contact, so by the time he is off his bottle he's not having any cuddles either."

Mrs Spletter and husband Max are preparing to send him to Kindy at Moggill Koala Hospital, where he will learn to fend for himself without human contact and live independently.

The kindergarteners are monitored weekly and graded by the strength of a muscle between their shoulder blades before they go back into the wild.

"Sometimes they can be in there for up to six to eight weeks," Mrs Spletter says.

All koalas are microchipped and are release back within a 4km of where they were found.

Seeing them go back into the wild is what Mrs Spletter says she loves most.

"People say to me, how can you hand raise them and then let them go? But when I see them in their room, I think they should be out in a tree somewhere," she says with a tear.

Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice president Marilyn Spletter of Hatton Vale with koala's Webcke (left) and Haylo. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times
Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice president Marilyn Spletter of Hatton Vale with koala's Webcke (left) and Haylo. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times David Nielsen

"When you release them there is so much joy. That's what we do it for.

"It is hard to let them go ...

they think I am mum, but when they go to kindy I see them once a week."

Mrs Spletter first volunteered at Moggill Koala Hospital in 1989, when her youngest child finished school.

"When I walked in it was like I had been waiting for this all my life, this is who I am," she says.

"I had given up smoking and would walk 8km each morning.

"I was finding possums on the road with babies in their pouch.

"It was after the third time I brought a baby to the hospital that I ended up caring for them myself."

Now she is the possum supervisor for their group. In between juggling koalas and possums, Mrs Spletter also cares for baby gliders.

Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice president Marilyn Spletter of Hatton Vale with koala's Webcke (left) and Haylo. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times
Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice president Marilyn Spletter of Hatton Vale with koala's Webcke (left) and Haylo. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times David Nielsen

"There have been times I've had four koalas and five possums at once," she says.

"Now that I only have two koalas, I find myself sitting there at night going what should I be doing?"

But caring for koalas is a full-time job, especially when it comes to fetching eucalyptus leaves for them to feed on.

The Spletters travel half an hour to cut leaf for Webcke and Haylo, every three days.

"Once it is a bit old they won't look at it," Mrs Spletter says.

"You need about 50 trees to cut leaf for two Koalas, but it is all worth it at the end of the day."

According to the Koala Protection Society, Ipswich is home to the largest healthy population of koalas in South-East Queensland, with a density higher than the Koala Coast, Redlands and Logan.

"We probably do have the same numbers if you went and did a koala count, but a lot of them would be diseased with chlamydia," Mrs Spletter says.

The majority of this population is at Rosewood, Mount Forbes, Ebenezer and Amberley.

"We have come to realise over the years that it is not enough to rescue and rehabilitate sick, injured and orphaned wildlife," Mrs Spletter says.

She says the Ipswich Koala Protection Society's greatest achievement to date has been influencing the realignment of the 12km Southern Freight Rail Corridor, originally proposed to cut a swathe through the centre of significant koala habitat at Mt Forbes.

"If they have nothing to go back to our efforts are pointless," Mrs Spletter says.

Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice president Marilyn Spletter of Hatton Vale with Webcke. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times
Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice president Marilyn Spletter of Hatton Vale with Webcke. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times David Nielsen


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