Conserving Koala Country

Conserving Koala Country

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Feeling a bit helpless and a lot sad.....

On Monday, I collected the carcass of the first of our study animals to die of starvation.  Ruby was one of our original females collared in April 2011.  Weighing in at 10.4kg, she was also one of our biggest girls.  She successfully raised joey 'Benjamin', and several months ago, joey 'Kevin Jr' emerged from her pouch.

Ruby with Kevin Jr (September 2013)

Ruby was captured during the government's 'Wildlife Intervention Plan' in September and was in good health at the time so simply given a hormone implant and released.  Unlike our other koalas, she did not move once all the trees in that patch died.  Two weeks after her health check, she abandoned her joey (I searched to no avail). Three weeks after that, she was dead.  She had lost 3kg in just a few weeks.  This is just the beginning.  I have no doubt that I will find more dead animals next week

Although I understand the complexities of koala management, I question policies behind decisions that allow healthy koalas to be released back into unhealthy habitat.  I would have preferred to see Ruby euthanased rather than released back into habitat that could not support her and her joey.

..... And the manna gums also continue to die, and the government still does not provide any support to landholders who are frantically trying to save at least some of their trees.

I have written to our state government pleading for help.  If you would like to write too, Victoria's Minister for Environment is Ryan Smith (

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Loving trees to death

Once a beautiful manna gum woodland....

These last few months have been difficult for me.  I have helplessly sat by and watched a forest die.  Not just any forest… OUR forest… the forest in which we have spent hours catching koalas, tracking koalas, measuring trees, sharing stories and laughs, and appreciating the beauty of nature.  The sad part is that it is the koalas that have caused this.  There is only so much koala browsing a tree, and a forest can bear (pardon the pun).
I predicted years ago that this would happen but the end has been very sudden.  Earthwatchers in the September trip still saw some leaves on the trees and counted around 130 koalas within our site.  At the moment, that number would be around 10 or 20, and by November, I’d be surprised to find any koalas there.
This koala struggles to get the last leaf on the tree
Also as predicted, our koalas are moving in search of food… well, all but Ruby have moved and I hope that Ruby will follow while she still has the energy.  Following their movements and condition over the next few months will be a major focus of mine.  I am hoping that they will not only find their way to the blue gum forest, but that they will survive there.
Dave, sitting in a tree on Station Beach Track
SO… a big question I get and maybe one on your mind is “Why can’t someone do something about it?”
I’ll give you a few bits of information and see if you can come up with an answer:

1.       There are probably thousands of koalas in the area and a lot more in the neighbouring blue gum forests, so ‘no’, we can’t ship them all off to wildlife parks;

2.       Translocation is highly stressful on koalas, especially if they are being moved to a different type of forest.  Studies elsewhere have shown that 100% koalas can die after being translocated;

3.       Fertility control is slow acting (we’re talking years) and the trees are dying now;

4.       Culling is illegal under Commonwealth policy.

So sadly, I don’t think there is anything anyone can do other than try to protect some trees to save the habitat, do what we can to reduce koala suffering, and learn from this situation. 
Bimbi Park has done an amazing job of collaring trees and other landholders are starting to do the same.  Some say that it is cruel to keep koalas from the few trees left, but no trees = no koalas = no other wildlife = no ecosystem services!   We’re also going to be doing more tree planting.  Bimbi Park planted about 400 trees this year and put a burn through some areas to promote natural revegetation.  I’ve germinated some of the seed collected by Earthwatchers and have about 600 baby mannas that will be ready to plant out next April/May.

Our government environmental department has also become involved and recently sent a team of vets to check on koala health.  I caught 30 koalas in 2 days!  Our radiocollared koalas were assessed as part of this and interestingly enough, all but one (Nelly) were in excellent condition.  Nelly had been dropping in condition even when food was abundant.  She was just old!  Based on her condition and age, we made the decision to euthanase her; much more peaceful than what would have been ahead of her.

I'm currently tracking the others on a weekly basis.  They move so much that it takes me much longer than normal to find them.  Austin has headed towards the lighthouse; Bella, Claire and Ned are sitting on the top of Big Hill; Scarface is up on Manna Gum Drive, and the others are on Station Beach Track (even Cranky Frankie!), and in paddock trees. At least if these ones start to suffer, I'll be there to help them.  I'm a softie!
Lucie and her new (camera-shy) joey