The McCormicks are having a wild Christmas. On Wednesday night, the South Australian family came home to find a mess in their living room.
Blue, silver and pink bobbles had been scattered across the floor, and their dog was sniffing their Christmas tree. When the mother looked up into the plastic branches, she came face-to-face with a blinking juvenile koala.
"I thought 'Is this a joke?'" Amanda McCormick told The Guardian. "I thought one of my kids may have put like a soft toy in there, but no, it was a live one."
Tangled up in their tree's lights, the family watched in shock as the juvenile koala made itself at home. It even tried to munch on a few plastic leaves before realising its mistake. Then, it just clung there.
Knowing that koalas do not like to be touched (however cuddly they may appear), the family called for help. But the Adelaide and Hills Koala Rescue didn't believe their story at first either.
"This evening our hotline operator took a call," reads a Facebook post from the organisation.
"At first she thought she was the victim of a prank call. But no, a koala desperate to get in the Christmas spirit had wandered into Amanda McCormick's house and decided it wanted to be the fairy on the Christmas tree."
Imagine coming home to find a Koala up your Christmas Tree! An Adelaide family captured this 'Only In Australia' moment, which thankfully had a happy ending. 🐨 🎄— Tim Hatfield (@timhatfield87) December 2, 2020
More on @7NewsAdelaide at 4pm and 6pm. pic.twitter.com/RWE6nYJGDN
Even the family's friends were skeptical. When 16-year-old Taylah McCormick posted a video of the koala on TikTok, many viewers couldn't believe their eyes.
It's certainly an unusual present to find wrapped around your Christmas tree, but it's not the first time this sort of thing has happened in Australia (of course). In 2016, a woman in Melbourne noticed the long garland in her holiday tree was actually a metre-long tiger snake.
By comparison, a tree-hugging koala is a much nicer surprise. But as cute as this encounter might seem, the growing presence of koalas in Australian suburbs is not a good sign.
Over the years, koalas have begun to amble further and further into Adelaide's suburbs as their native woodlands are deforested. Australia has one of the worst rates of deforestation in the world, leading to fragmented habitat as competition for resources increases. At the same time, ever rising temperatures also drive wildlife to shade.
Today, koalas are a vulnerable species and a rare sight in the bush, however they are commonly found in suburban backyards and sometimes even houses. Last year, in the Adelaide Hills, a woman woke to find a koala sitting on her couch, checking out her rack of CDs.
On one particularly hot day in 2019, a koala was actually found chilling on the leather seats of an air-conditioned car.
Just this year, a family in Adelaide's Golden Grove discovered a koala hanging out with their dog on their bed.
Luckily, all of these encounters were quite friendly, but experts warn koalas are not as gentle as they look. When large mammals get close, koalas feel threatened and can sometimes become quite aggressive, especially young males. Pets should be kept away if at all possible, for the safety of both animals.
"(The) best thing to do is leave them alone as they can get aggressive and call 1300KOALAZ to remove them," the co-founder of the Adelaide charity, Dee Hearne-Hellon, told CNN. In other parts of Australia, people would have to contact their local wildlife rescue.
"As cute as they look they have very long claws and very sharp teeth."
When wildlife experts arrived at the McCormicks' house, they gently pried the koala from the plastic tree, found it to be healthy, and released it in the nearby trees which comprise a perfect koala habitat.
Not a Christmas the family will be forgetting any time soon.