Leaf thief: viral sensation Claude the koala returns to nursery to munch on 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 more brazen, with the hungry marsupial now helping himself to a weekday feed in front of staff at Eastern Forest Nursery.

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

Previously the koala would raid seedlings at night or on weekends when no one was around.

Sprung … sensor camera images show cheeky Claude munching seedlings in broad daylight. Photograph: WWF
Conservationists say Claude’s behaviour highlights the fact that there isn’t enough food in the heavily cleared NSW northern rivers for koalas. Photograph: WWF

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

“We all found it quite amusing, but at the same time, he has caused quite a lot of damage and continues to come back and visit the nursery.”

Adorable though Claude may be, conservationists say his behaviour highlights a serious problem – there isn’t enough food in the heavily cleared local environment in the NSW northern rivers for koalas to eat.

“Claude and his friends raiding the nursery to eat seedlings shows they’re desperate for food trees,” said Maria Borges from WWF Australia.

“This area in the northern rivers, especially around Lismore, is heavily cleared and it’s really missing good quality habitat for them.

“We need to plant more trees and urgently stop tree clearing especially around the northern rivers which is a stronghold for koala populations in New South Wales.”

Five hundred seedlings that Claude had munched on have just been planted in the local area to help provide food for him and his friends.

The seedlings were unsuitable for sale but still viable, so Herington donated them to WWF Australia, which is funding a larger community tree-planting project.

Community groups have planted 400,000 seedlings in the region and are aiming to reach 500,000 by the end of the year.

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The evidence … 500 seedlings taste-tested by Claude have been planted in the local area. Photograph: WWF

The property of NSW Greens MLC Sue Higginson is one of the locations for the new tree plantings.

She said it was wonderful Claude had brought so much attention to the area but said his story highlighted the need to take the plight of endangered koala populations in northern NSW seriously. In the Northern Rivers region, koala habitat has been cleared for activities including agriculture, predominantly for the creation of pasture.

A 2020 NSW parliamentary inquiry found koalas would be extinct in the state by 2050 without urgent action.

Governments continue to permit the clearing of koala habitat, including for native forest logging operations on the mid-north coast and in areas that have been promised for conservation in a proposed great koala national park.

“We’re in one of the most biodiverse, rich areas on this continent, but historical clearing has seriously degraded the area,” Higginson said.

“I’m privileged to be a custodian of this little patch of the northern rivers. My job, while I’m here, is to make this place better.

“We’re doing this because we have an incredible koala population hanging on for dear survival right here.”

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