Words: John Westbury Photos: Koalas of Raymond Island Inc
Koalas are the most popular of our Australian wildlife and while many travellers love to be able to see them, especially up close, the only paces seem to be sanctuaries where you have to pay. But, here in Victoria at Raymond Island, just off Paynesville, we have just the place and you can see them up close at no cost.
Koalas of Raymond Island Inc. (KoRI) is a ‘Not for Profit’ organisation that rescues, cares and rehabilitates sick and injured koalas and raises orphaned or abandoned koala Joeys and was established in March 2020 by Shelley Robinson, Carole Jones and Catherine Winzer after the 2019/2020 fires.
Since those devastating fires, volunteers have fundraised to build enclosures, pre-release pens and a treatment room. Koalas of Raymond Island Shelter has rescued and cared for over 164 animals in the past year. The shelter is run by a dedicated team of volunteers and includes 4 registered wildlife carers. All work on a voluntary basis and all money raised goes directly to the care of koalas. Shelly Robinson has lived on Raymond Island for 15 years, moving from inner suburban Melbourne in 2008 for a tree/sea change. She had no experience with wildlife and when she found an injured koala in her backyard, she contacted the local Shelter and there began her love of koalas.
Teamwork overcoming the Challenges
“I began volunteering at the Shelter and then registered as a Wildlife Carer. Koalas are not an easy animal to care for, they may look cute and cuddly but they have very sharp claws and strong jaws that can inflict a nasty bite, they are also very difficult to diagnose and treat and should only be handled or cared for by a Registered Wildlife Carer with koala experience.
“In 2019 the local Wildlife Shelter moved off the island and during the 2019/2020 fires I was asked to take 8 koalas into emergency care, we set up temporary facilities and managed the care for them over several months. With the help and support of my good friends Carole and Cath, we made the decision to register as a Wildlife Shelter. Our Shelter is a team effort, everyone is a volunteer and contribute in so many different ways”, she said.
Free Ferry for Pedestrians
Raymond Island is a unique area in East Gippsland on the Gippsland Lakes, where there is a large population of our iconic koalas, one of the few areas people can walk the koalas trail and see koalas in their natural environment. The 2022 Deeca/ Parks Victoria Koala Health Program last October counted 283 koalas on Raymond Island. This is not a census of the numbers as only some areas of the island were counted, but it is a repeatable survey effort designed to indicate population trends which will be duplicated in coming years.
Raymond Island is accessible via a large ferry and pedestrians can travel over free, but, there is a cost for vehicles. The Walking Trail is 2km Easy for all ages and abilities. You can also hire bikes and these seat up to six people, so you can take a comfortable ride around the island. As you leave the ferry there is a sign asking everyone to please drive slowly, and recently volunteer Jane Slater captured a lovely photo of a koala at the sign reminding everyone to do just that.
Not all Eucalypts!
Jane is one of the hard working volunteers who joined KoRi three years ago and began as a volunteer, cleaning enclosures, daily koala observations and feeding. She then took on the huge daily task of going out to cut ‘browse’ (eucalyptus leaves) out in the bush. Koalas are very fussy eaters and are known to eat only 60 of the 900 varieties of eucalyptus leaf, of these ,their preferred species are only 10 varieties and on Raymond Island, the koalas diet is Manna gum and Redgum.
Check out these Holiday Parks nearby