SYDNEY (Reuters) - They're cute, they're cuddly and, in these times of financial woe, they make an affordable festive gift that's also good for the soul -- adopt a rescued koala.
The "Adopt a Wild Koala Program" has been in operation for 15 years and is a major source of funding for The Koala Hospital, the world's only medical facility dedicated to the care and preservation of the animals.
The annual cost of adopting a koala is A$40 (US$26) within Australia and A$50 (US$32) from overseas, which the hospital said goes toward the rescue and treatment of sick and injured koalas, the release of treated animals back into the wild, as well as the preservation and expansion of their habitat.
Adopters receive a certificate, a photograph of the animal, the story of how it ended up in the hospital as well as stickers and booklets about koalas and the hospital.
"It's an ideal gift, and particularly these days when kids have everything," Anne Walsh a volunteer at the Port Macquarie-based hospital told Reuters by telephone.
"I had a phone call from a lady in Singapore today who wanted to adopt five koalas for her relatives for Christmas. I've been delighted with the amount of people wanting to adopt."
Walsh said the rescued koalas are usually named after the area they were found in and the person who helped rescue them.
"We've got Westhaven Barry, Kempsey Carolina and Bonny Fire, she was caught up in a bushfire," she added.
Once they have recovered from their injuries or ailments, and are able to live in their natural habitat, the koalas are released back into the wild.
Koalas are native to Australia and are found in coastal regions of the east and south. Their staple diet is eucalyptus leaves.
Editing by Miral Fahmy