He prefers to climb gum trees instead of Notre Dame’s bell towers, but Karnup’s own hunchback, Dexter, is as much of a superstar as Quasimodo.
The 12-year-old koala was the first koala to ever be bred at Karnup-based West Oz Wildlife, a zoo which teaches conservation through hands-on educational experiences.
Dexter was living a normal life at the zoo until he was four years old, when he was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine which affects only 5 per cent of the male koala population.
“We assume he was born with this condition, and it became more significant as he grew older,” West Oz Wildlife carer Beth Mullany said.
“In terms of scoliosis in koalas, there has still not been enough research done to determine how or why this occurs.”
Ms Mullany said the average life expectancy for a koala suffering from the condition is only two years, however Dexter is getting ready to celebrate his 13th birthday in a few months.
She said despite having a significant hump Dexter wasn’t in pain, and the zoo was working tirelessly to make his life as comfortable as possible.
Due to his condition, Dexter is less active than some koalas, has some trouble climbing tall trees and requires keepers to blend part of his food.
“All we can do ourselves is give Dexter the best life possible, the best care and keep him comfortable by changing any husbandry requirements he needs along the way,” she said.
“He is not in any pain. He does however need some assistance with feeding as he has gotten older, and we adapt his enclosures constantly to meet his needs.”
In the 12 years Dexter has been at the zoo he has managed to steal the hearts of all the carers with his gentle and loving personality, and a dose of daily cuddles.
“Dexter is such a huge part of our family, and we just absolutely love him so much,” Ms Mullany said.
“Giving him his daily cuddles is the best part of our day.
“He waits for us to come in each day to cuddle him, he definitely prefers human trees, than koala trees.
“Dexter holds a very special place in our hearts.”
Ms Mullany said Australia’s koala population also struggled in the wild due to habitat destruction and other environmental pressures.
But she said she hoped West Oz Wildlife’s educational approach would help their conservation status.
Scoliosis is a health condition which affects one out of 10 adolescents girls in Australia, according to Scoliosis Australia.
It mostly affects women and it is diagnosed in girls aged between 10 and 13.
June is International Scoliosis Awareness Month, an initiative which hopes to raise awareness about the condition and funds towards researching the condition.
For more information about Dexter and the zoo call 0420 570 432 or go to West Oz Wildlife’s website.