Debi Edward, ITV News’ Asia correspondent, has been reporting on Australia's wildfire crisis, which has destroyed natural habitats and is thought to have killed millions of animals.
During a visit to the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, Ms Edward was offered the opportunity to hold one of the country’s supposedly dangerous “drop bears” – a fake sub-species of koala known for attacking tourists.
“Drop bears are a close cousin of the koala but they’re actually really vicious so it’s sort of like a dingo and a normal domestic dog,” Sean Mulcahy, a freelance video producer, told the reporter.
Mr Mulcahy claimed the animal has longer claws than a regular koala and small fangs with a mild venom.
“The third most common injury we see in tourists in Australia is actually from drop bear attacks,” he told Ms Edward.
However, the animal he gave to the reporter to hold was merely a normal koala.
Drop bears are a popular hoax in Australia, designed to scare tourists by warning them about an unusually large and vicious type of koala that attacks unsuspecting people by jumping on them from treetops.
Ms Edward was given body armour and protective goggles to hold the animal, which she told the camera was a “dangerous bear that is known to attack people”.
“Everybody looks very worried about this. I’m trying not to be worried because I’ve been told he can sense if I’m worried,” the reporter said as she nervously held the koala.
After a few moments, Ms Edward became increasingly anxious and the wildlife park staff intervened when she pleaded at them to take the animal off her.
That was when Mr Mulcahy and the crew revealed she had been pranked and the animal was just a harmless koala.
“You were kidding me! F****** Aussies,” Ms Edward replied as the camera crew burst out laughing.
The reporter later appeared on Channel Nine’s Today show to explain how she was fooled by the prank.
“There were several points looking back, obviously, where I thought ‘that’s maybe not quite right’ but these guys were like ‘you should really try this, it’s one thing we only do for our special visitors,’” Ms Edward said.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that I knew nothing about drop bears,” she added, when the Today hosts asked if she knew that the “drop bear” is a well-known hoax in Australia.
The ITV reporter has been covering the damage caused by wildfires in the country, which are thought to have killed more than half of the koalas on Kangaroo Island.
Sussan Ley, Australia’s environment minister, has warned that the koala population has taken an “extraordinary hit” from the fires and could be listed as “endangered” due to the devastation.
Mr Mulcahy has praised Ms Edward’s reporting and said that anyone who enjoyed the prank should donate to the park to help treat koalas hurt by the fires.
"For us, it was a case of, it's just been a miserable couple of weeks, and then we got this laugh. I'm glad I shared it because so many people have got joy out of it," he told ABC News.
"I've just been with a family who lost their home on Kangaroo Island, I sat down with them and they all watched the video and were just crying with laughter."
Donations to Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park can be made here