The thirsty koala, the cyclist, and the Instagram video that went viral

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You would have seen the video and photos by now. The thirsty koala perched on a rider’s bike in the Adelaide Hills, days after bushfires swept through the area, asking for water from the rider’s bidon. Those images first appeared on the Instagram account of VeloClub member Anna Heusler but have since been shared by news outlets and social media accounts around the world.

When CyclingTips caught up with Heusler she was just about to head out on a ride through the Adelaide Hills, up to Mt. Lofty and then down from Norton Summit. It’s the same ride she was on with her partner Andrew on Friday December 27 when she came across the now-world-famous koala she calls “Kodak” (“because he’s been filmed by the world”)

The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

CyclingTips: So you were just descending Norton Summit and this koala was sitting there?

Anna Heusler: We came around the corner and Kodak was literally sitting in the middle of road. We see this from time to time and we always stop and just escort them off the road so they don’t get hit. I mean, who’s not going to do that?

So I pulled up on the bike and obviously Andrew pulled up too and there was some other cyclists coming down behind us that we passed and they all caught up [and then stopped]. But he walked right up to me really quickly — really quickly for a koala — they can walk fast when they want to. You just don’t see it. So he just walked straight right up to me and while I was faffing around getting my bidon open he climbed up on the [bike]. I didn’t even realise he did because I was so excited about having one so close.

I was just so overwhelmed by the gorgeousness of it, for lack of a better word, that I kept saying to Andrew “Take photos! Take photos!” while I was trying to give him water. I’ve now learned that that’s not the way to give water to a koala, because I’ve been with Adelaide Koala Rescue since I got back — I’m now a member and part of their admin team. But you’re not supposed to give them water like that.

But I mean, what are you going to do when you’re on a bike and all you’ve got is a bidon?

How are you supposed to give a koala water?

You’re supposed to put it in a dish, on the ground. It’s better for their aspiration. It’s supposed to be flat — they drink out of a bowl like a dog. But I didn’t know that. I know that now.

Did you get a bit of a fright when you looked up and he was up on your bike?

No, not at all. I thought it was just so precious. I actually posted it — back before I knew all this was gonna blow up — because Andrew and I drove to Halls Gap for five days of cycling in the mountains there just a few hours after it happened. And he said to me jokingly “You ought to put a post up saying 9 out of 10 koalas prefer Specialized.” So I did. And of course Specialized picked that up and now they’re in touch with me from America.

How did all of the media attention start?

Someone had sent the link to Channel Seven in Adelaide and they put it online. And then meanwhile, we’re driving to Halls Gap from Adelaide and then it [her phone’s notifications] just started “beep beep, beep beep, beep beep.” And over the next five days, it just didn’t stop.

We were getting up at 5:00 to ride early because it was actually 40-something [degrees Celsius] over there almost every day. And Andrew I had to just leave it till we came back. And then I’d have to basically be attached to my phone the whole day.

I didn’t even know this was going to happen, you see? I’ve never been the recipient of the world’s media. I mean, I have spoken to and had emails from the media in almost every country you could think of including Alaska to Timbuktu. It’s nuts.

How many interviews do you think you would have done?

This is the thing. Andrew said, if this happened again, we’d know how to handle it this time. I honestly don’t know but hundreds if you’re including permission to use the content for good. And if you’re including talking to journalists and if you’re including mostly overseas emails from journalists asking for this, that and the other, it would be hundreds.

You got involved with the Adelaide Koala Rescue after meeting Kodak, right?

The next day [after getting back from Halls Gap] I called them. I was lucky enough to get through to the director, Jane, and she invited me to come along on a koala rescue where we rescued two koalas. And it’s just taken off from there. She’s now put me on as an admin member of their Facebook page.

I’ve been going out there and I’m donating my time. I can’t do the vet stuff — the vet nurses are qualified, but what I can do is help with a lot of the admin stuff. So I’m doing that every day I can get out there. Yesterday we were building a big outdoor playpen for the baby koalas and they’ve all been housed out there yesterday afternoon. So they’ve got a safe environment outside, just outside the door at the triage centre and they’re all in a natural environment now, but still being monitored.

So do you go out to actually rescue them yourself or are you doing mainly admin?

No, I have been a couple of times. I’ve been involved in the rescue of three so far. And I want to do more. I hope to do more. And the sad thing is they’re still actually coming in. We got three last night with burns. So this far down the track — the fires started on the 20th of December — they’re still coming in because, as Jane explained to me, they’re really getting desperate for food and water now so they’re still coming in.

There’s tens of thousands of acres that’s burnt and there’s no one monitoring them or walking through those paddocks. So these little fellows are still coming in, searching for food and water. And so they’re getting picked up.

Had you done any work like that before or was it all just out of this whole experience when you were riding?

It was all out of meeting Kodak. All this attention that landed on me while we were in Halls Gap, I kept saying to Andrew “OK I’ve got to use this to do good.” I know I’m not a social personality or anything but I’ve got to use all this attention to do good. And my [Instagram] following has gone from 2,000 to over 20,000 and if I can keep that growing … whatever I get to, I want to keep using that.

Because that’s when you can talk to people and they’re interested because … you are influencing people. The day after I got back I started a GoFundMe campaign with a $10,000 ceiling and I’ve reached almost $21,000 in about four days or something.

Follow the link to Anna’s GoFundMe campaign. You can check out her photos at her Instagram page.

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