Leaf thief: Viral sensation: Koala Claude returns to the nursery to eat seedlings in broad daylight | Wildlife

Claude the koala became Australia's cutest thief and a viral sensation when he was filmed munching on seedlings at a nursery near Lismore last September.

But fame has only made him bolder: Now, on weekdays, the hungry marsupial helps himself in front of the staff at the Eastern Forest Nursery.

New photos show Claude preparing eucalyptus seedlings in broad daylight as a nursery worker looks on. He reached the plants after climbing over a shade cloth and a pole.

In the past, koalas would raid seedlings at night or on weekends when no one was around.

Jump … Sensor camera images show cheeky Claude nibbling in broad daylight. Photo: WWF
Environmentalists say Claude's behavior shows that there is not enough food for koalas in the heavily deforested rivers of northern New South Wales. Photo: WWF

“We had no idea that a koala would actually come into the nursery and eat directly from our plants. I would never have believed it until I saw Claude sitting there on the post,” said nursery manager Humphrey Herington.

“We all found it quite amusing, but at the same time he has caused quite a lot of damage and keeps coming back and visiting the nursery.”

As cute as Claude may be, his behavior points to a serious problem for environmentalists: there is not enough food for the koalas in the heavily deforested area of ​​the northern rivers of New South Wales.

“Claude and his friends raiding the nursery and eating seedlings shows that they are desperately looking for trees to use as food,” said Maria Borges of WWF Australia.

“This area in the northern rivers, particularly around Lismore, is heavily deforested and there is a real lack of quality habitat for them.

“We need to plant more trees and urgently stop logging, particularly around the northern rivers, which are strongholds of koala populations in New South Wales.”

Five hundred seedlings that Claude had snacked on were being planted in the area to provide food for him and his friends.

Since the seedlings were not suitable for sale but still viable, Herington donated them to WWF Australia, which is funding a larger community tree planting project.

Citizens' initiatives have planted 400,000 seedlings in the region and aim to reach 500,000 by the end of the year.

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The proof… 500 seedlings taste-tested by Claude were planted in the area. Photo: WWF

The property of NSW Greens MP Sue Higginson is one of the sites for the new tree plantings.

She said it was wonderful that Claude had brought so much attention to the area, but said his story showed how important it was to take seriously the plight of endangered koala populations in northern New South Wales. In the Northern Rivers region, koala habitat has been cleared for activities such as farming, predominantly to create grazing land.

A 2020 New South Wales parliamentary inquiry found that koalas in the state would be extinct by 2050 unless urgent action was taken.

Governments continue to allow koala habitat to be cleared, including by clearing native forest on the Mid North Coast and in areas to be protected as part of a planned Koala National Park.

“We are in one of the most biodiverse and richest areas on this continent, but past deforestation has severely damaged the area,” Higginson said.

“I have the privilege of being the guardian of this little patch of northern rivers. My job while I am here is to improve this place.

“We are doing this because there is an incredible koala population here fighting for survival.”