GOOD NEWS

Elsa the koala - the Australian Reptile Park's internet sensation - becomes best friends with Hope the wombat, and the Blackbutt boardwalk re-opens

Elsa the Koala is a little more than a year old and her best friend is a wombat called Hope.

The pair become unlikely buds in the weeks the park was forced to close due to the outbreak of coronavirus around the state, but even now as the park re-opens, the pair of hand-raised native cuties have become near-inseparable keepers say.

"Hope is a little ray of sunshine and we just knew the two of them would enjoy getting to know each other," curator Hayley Shute said.

Ms Shute hand-raised the young Koala joey after its mother was unable to provide the milk it needed. Elsa was named by Ms Shutes children who had just returned from a trip to Disneyland.

Hope the wombat was named in April after thousands of names were submitted by the public, and has been visiting the koala enclosure at the park during cleaning. Keepers are calling the pair "lockdown BFFS".

"Elsa and Hope are great ambassadors for Australian wildlife and our wildlife needs all the help it can get. Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate on the planet," Ms Shute said.

"Our iconic koala is sadly experiencing a large decline in numbers due, in part, to the tragic bush fires we had earlier this year and they're on the trajectory to be extinct in the wild by 2050."

Meanwhile, across the Hunter, the Blackbutt Reserve animal exhibition boardwalk re-opened on Wednesday as virus-related restrictions continue to ease around the state.

Animal encounters, shows, the reserve's kiosk and wildlife exhibits remained closed, however, and there are restrictions on gatherings as per social distancing guidelines, a spokesperson the City of Newcastle said. Playgrounds, walking trails, open spaces, shelters and barbecues are open.

"Safety is our priority and when you visit Blackbutt Reserve, you can expect social distancing measures in place to protect visitors and our staff," Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.

This story The koala and the wombat who became best friends in lockdown first appeared on Newcastle Herald.