Claims from animal activists that a "koala cuddling" event to raise money for drought-stricken farmers will bring trauma have been dismissed by the owner of Shoalhaven Zoo.
Warrawong Plaza will host the event tomorrow, Tuesday and Thursday, with proceeds from the gold coin donation event being donated to the Buy a Bale charity.
It was launched as a combination of Christmas cheer, snuggly mammals, and farm assistance - but the Animal Justice Party didn't see it that way.
It was "traumatising" animals for profit, Animal Justice Party Illawarra regional group leader Julie Power said - for the cause of helping industries that slaughter animals.
"Koalas are wild animals," Ms Power said.
"They should not be wheeled out in front of large crowds to be touched, poked and prodded for profit, no matter the cause.
"It must also be recognised that this event promotes traumatising animals to raise money for the cruel animal agriculture industry, who we know abuse and slaughter animals on a daily basis.
"Events such as this don't provide meaningful or natural interaction.
"Instead they teach children is that it is OK to use animals like commodities and that they are simply here for our own entertainment."
Warrawong Plaza's marketing team said it was "unable to comment" on the criticism. It was not clear why.
But Shoalhaven Zoo owner Nicholas Schilko was not shy to speak out, saying the AJP was being tasteless.
"We find the whole thing in poor taste that the Animal Justice Party would want to discredit an opportunity like Warrawong Plaza's initiative to raise funds for the struggling farmers currently in a desperate time of need," he said.
"We want the farmers to know we care about them, and what they and their families are going through."
It's understood no-one will allowed to actually cuddle a koala, but they will get to give them a pat while in the arms of trained Shoalhaven zookeepers.
The Animal Justice Party Illawarra Regional Group said it would be watching to make sure everything was above board.
"The reality is that these events are far from cute," Ms Power said.
"They actively discourage empathy towards animals who are frightened in such an intense environment in favour of our own amusement.
"We will be keeping an eye out to ensure that the animals used in this event remain on their perch and are protected from harassment by visitors."
Cuddle a Koala is near JB Hi-Fi from 11.30am Saturday.