IT WAS one small step for Pindari, but one giant leap for Campbelltown's delicate koala population.
When he climbed onto a gum tree in St Helens Park last Tuesday, Pindari became the first koala to be hand-raised and released back into the wild in Sydney.
The Advertiser has followed Pindari's progress since he was found in poor health not far from his dead mother's body in St Helens Park bushland in July last year. He has since been raised by St Andrews WIRES carer Cate Ryan.
Ms Ryan said Pindari's successful release was significant.
"He was at his own stage of development where he wanted to go," she said. "He was ready to go."
In this week's Mac Koala column (page 24), the koala expert, Dr Robert Close, describes the release as "a tense moment".
"He climbed half a metre, then stopped, clinging to the soft, smooth bark with his sharp claws and looked around at us as if to say, 'What next?'", Dr Close said.
Ms Ryan says it's a case of so far, so good. "A week into it he's traversed the terrain, eaten from a high canopy tree and managed to retain his grip. And he's come down, traversed about 15 feet and climbed up another blue gum," she said.
But Ms Ryan said it was hard cutting the metaphorical umbilical cord. "For 10 months he has been my baby," she said.
Training courses for Macarthur residents who would like to be WIRES carers will run in Chipping Norton on June 29 and 30. For more information, call Cate Ryan on 0415 957 383.