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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

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PORT MACQUARIE, Australia -- The patient is an elderly male koala, found on the streets in poor health compounded by old age and a life spent scavenging for food in people's backyards.


Weakened by hunger, the 13-year-old koala swallows a protein-rich milk dispensed through an eye-dropper as hospital staff examine his medical chart, noting drily that his sad history is all too common in some Australian towns and cities. Urban development along Australia's east coast is pushing the koala -- the unchallenged favorite of Australia's tourism mascots -- toward extinction in some local areas.


Koalas are now thought to number between 40,000 and 80,000 nationwide.


Nicknamed Roundabout Boy because he was found sitting in the middle of a traffic circle, the koala was "found dehydrated and half-starved," said Liz O'Connor.


She is supervisor of Australia's unique Koala Hospital at Port Macquarie, a rapidly growing resort town about 300 kilometers north of Sydney where the cuddly, tree-dwelling animal is literally clinging to survival. Hundreds of koalas are rushed to the hospital each year.


Neatly clipped lawns and houses with wide-verandas now occupy land where dozy koalas once reigned supreme from the forks of native eucalyptus trees.


Casualties of this urban sprawl, the koalas have been hit by cars, attacked by pet dogs, drowned in backyard swimming pools or, like Roundabout Boy, found wandering the streets, homeless.


Some have been found stranded and disoriented at the top of telegraph poles.


"They don't have any natural enemies, so they don't have any fear," said O'Connor. They are territorial, roaming from tree to tree and browsing on eucalypti leaves.


"They are very single minded, which some people say is stupid. If they have a usual path through their territory and somebody builds a house and a swimming pool in the way, they will just walk straight into the swimming pool."


Koalas sleep up to 20 hours a day and live mainly along the east coast, from the country's sub-tropical north to its temperate south.


They live in pockets, ranging from "urban" koalas on the verge of extinction to protected areas of forest so crammed with koalas that some scientists advocate population culls.


"Things have been grimmer for the koala," agreed a spokeswoman for the national government's Australian Nature Conservation Agency, or ANCA, which recently decided against officially listing the marsupial as vulnerable.


"The koala was not deemed vulnerable, but it was recognized that it [the national population] has declined and that, in particular areas, local extinction is happening," the ANCA spokeswoman said.


But koala conservationists believe ANCA is understating the problem and say greater steps must be taken to preserve koala habitat and to educate people about living with "urban" koalas.