Keepers at Australian Reptile Park, a zoo on the New South Wales (NSW) Central Coast, were forced to intervene after they found that Elsa’s mom, Irene, was suffering from mastitis—an inflammation of the breast that can lead to infection.
As such, Elsa was not getting the milk she needed, which keepers say is “imperative to her growth and chance of survival.”
The zoo said that both Elsa and Irene are now “doing amazingly in care” and will be reunited in the coming months.
Elsa is for now under the care of resident koala-whisperer and curator of Australian Reptile Park Hayley Shute, who named the joey after the ice queen character in Disney’s “Frozen.”
“Hayley and her family recently returned from a trip to Disneyworld and it was the first name her daughters suggested for the bundle of joy,” the zoo explained in a release. “Fittingly, Elsa loves warm hugs and pops her head out of the pouch each time Hayley’s daughters watch Frozen.”
A video shared by Australian Reptile Park shows wide-eyed Elsa being cuddled and fed, as well as snuggling in a blanket.
Shute said that caring for a koala joey is no trivial task.
“Koala joeys require 24 hours of care, supervision, and seven bottles of a special milk formula a day,” she said.
“Elsa will feed from the bottle from the next 4-6 months until she becomes independent enough to eat eucalyptus leaves,” she added. “Once she is strong enough, she will be reunited with her mum Irene and be introduced to our koala family here at the Australian Reptile Park.”
The koala joey’s mom, Irene, is currently in veterinary care and expected to fully recover.
“Elsa is a true sign of hope and will act as an ambassador for the koala [sic] who are in need of all the awareness they can get,” the zoo announced.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), excessive tree-clearing in the state of NSW, where the zoo is situated, is putting koalas at risk of local extinction.
“In the last year, the clearing of trees has nearly tripled in NSW. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of native bushland and forest have been cleared at an unsustainable rate. This has left vital natural habitats completely destroyed or fragmented,” the WWF website states.
“Koalas live in eucalyptus trees in forests and woodlands, which they depend on for food and shelter,” it adds. “Sadly, the destruction and fragmentation of their habitat means they’re forced on to open ground in search of another place to call home. It’s during this time that they face being hit by cars, attacked by dogs or falling sick to diseases like chlamydia.”
“We’ve already lost 1 in 4 koalas in the last 20 years. At this rate, koala populations could be extinct as early as 2050,” the organization warns.