Morton was already quite the celebrity within Port Stephens, but the lovable koala’s popularity reached new heights when his journey featured in a video that went viral online.
In June 2017, Morton’s mother, Nikita, was hit and killed by a car.
The distressed driver called Port Stephens Koalas volunteers, who arrived at the scene and realised a joey was still alive in her pouch.
After a difficult process, which involved extracting pap so little Morton could survive, he was sent to live with one of the charity’s carers, Julie Jennings.
“[Morton] was only 340 grams when we got him – we kept him on a heat pad in a little home-made pouch and he was given milk every three hours initially,” Mrs Jennings said.
“When he was 12 months old, milk was only given once a day, and then he was weaned off it at two-and-a-half kilograms, so it is a very long, drawn-out process.”
Mrs Jennings said Morton started to use a mini-gym to simulate what he would typically do in the wild, before offering trees for him to practice his climbing skills on.
“We are their ‘mum’, but obviously they are not pets so, when it’s time for them to leave, they go through a dehumanising process,” Mrs Jennings said.
Morton was eventually released at a secret location, free from dogs, cars and people.
Mrs Jennings said koalas were inserted with a microchip so volunteers could identify them in the future.
“Generally, we rely on the public to call in sick, injured or dead koalas,” she said.
“If we can retrieve them, we might know who it is and that will help with what we’re trying to do in terms of statistics and research.”
Morton’s journey, from when he was a tiny joey through to his release into the wild, was captured on a video that attracted about 1.3 million views and 27,000 likes online.
Mrs Jennings said such footage had helped raise awareness and funds, which went directly towards more treatment and research.
“A couple of years ago, we had a video of a joey called Mason playfighting – it only went for 12 seconds before he rolled away and headbutted a nearby tree, but it went worldwide,” she said.
“From that, we knew how far it could reach and that we could get much-needed money from these videos.
“So, koalas have their own agent really, which I find quite funny.
“Everybody knows that numbers are declining, so we think it’s more important than ever before to keep your eyes out and get on board – your koalas need you.”
Go to portstephenskoalas.com.au for more information or to donate.