July 16, 2008

Alive: Koala Run Over at 60mph Then Carried 7 Miles Stuck in Car Grille


IT WAS a remarkable escape from almost certain death which has earned "Lucky" the right to brag from the treetops of Queensland.

The eight-year-old koala was struck by a car travelling at high speed and then dragged along for a further seven miles before the unsuspecting driver was made aware of her unlikely hitch-hiker.

Rescuers, who noticed the marsupial clinging to the front of the vehicle, his body dangling loosely, initially thought he had been decapitated.

However, the koala was found to be alive and well, if a little rattled, after it emerged his head and left arm had been forced through the car's grille, such was the force of the 60mph impact.

Rescuers have said it is a miracle the bear survived at all, and staff at the Australian Wildlife Hospital at Australia Zoo have named him "Lucky Grilles", after a late comedian and actor.

Workers at the zoo in Queensland's Gold Coast said the accident happened in twilight, and that the female driver of the car had noticed a koala on the road. When she checked her rear view mirror, however, she saw nothing, and drove on unaware of her cargo until a passing driver flagged her down at a nearby petrol station.

Animal welfare workers were called, and Lucky was found to be in reasonably fine fettle, suffering only from shock. Rhonda Hay, who works for a Queensland volunteer rescue group, was charged with freeing the koala using household scissors as the "jaws of life", cutting around the car's grille mesh and releasing the animal. After being taken to the wildlife hospital's intensive care unit for tests, Lucky was sitting up and eating just two hours later.

Carolyn Beaton, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said: "To have him survive and virtually unscathed is quite miraculous. While Lucky was in shock, he quickly recovered and was nearly better after a couple of hours' rest and a feed. Somehow the force of the impact propelled him through the grille. That sort of wedged him there."

Gail Gipp, the hospital's manager, said the koala's story underlined the need for drivers always to be alert for wildlife and to be prepared to stop and seek help in the case of an accident.

"Koalas are more likely to be on the move over the next few weeks coinciding with the onset of the koala-breeding season," she said. "We ask drivers to exercise particular caution when travelling in koala habitat areas."

Ms Gipp said that because koalas were bumper-bar height, the slow- moving animals were vulnerable to suffering severe injuries from even the slightest impact with a car, highlighting how fortunate Lucky was to survive unscathed. Nearly a quarter of the hospital's 5,000-plus admissions last year involved animals that had been hit by cars.


THOUGH Lucky enjoyed an escape befitting his new moniker, many of Australia's koalas are not so fortunate when venturing out onto the nation's roads.

Habitat loss and urban expansion is forcing the animals to seek out new homes and sources of water, with the result being that around 300 of the estimated 90,000 koala population die each year on Queensland's roads.

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