Conserving Koala Country

Conserving Koala Country

Monday, 25 July 2016

Taking stock...

I have not blogged since January. Sadly, this reflects the lack of blog-worthy news about Cape Otway’s koalas. The government’s plan to address the problems at the Cape has met with partial success. Most of the radio collared koalas that were translocated in September have survived which leads us to hope that the 300+ koalas translocated through to December also have prospered in their new home. However, tree condition at Cape Otway continues to decline under the feeding pressure of ~1000 koalas and other than inserting some hormone implants into a small proportion of the female population (most of which would have already had pouch young), the government has not taken any more action. And there don't appear to be any plans to.

It is frustrating to sit by and watch Cape Otway manna gum woodlands continue to decline in condition. It is concerning that there don’t appear to be any plans for more translocations. Fertility control is a long-term approach for reducing population density and will not reduce the current unsustainable browsing pressure on trees. Data collected by our February Earthwatch team showed that tree condition in many sites is critically poor. I expect further declines by our next data collection in September and November. On the positive side, it is awesome to see the local landholders and the Conservation Ecology Centre actively planting trees, but of course, this also is a long-term approach.

Plenty of females with young in February.
So, what does this mean for the future of koala research at Cape Otway? Sadly, the Cape has become a difficult place for field research. I will continue to undertake some monitoring at our long-term sites, but it is no longer possible for me to continue the Earthwatch trips and conduct research there on koala behaviour and ecology. On a number of occasions in 2015, my research was compromised by government management actions – study animals (identified with eartags) were euthanased or given hormone implants without my being notified. I can’t take the risk that the same won’t happen again.

I now have started projects in other locations. On the Mornington Peninsula, students and I are working with the local community of Somers to understand the ecology of their urban koalas. If you are interested in learning more about that project, please join our facebook group We have radio collared some koalas there and have been fascinated to see how widely they roam. Other projects (and students) are considering southern koala populations and threats more broadly. In many locations, koala populations appear to be declining. We need to gain a better understanding of those situations.

Tracks of one of our boys in Somers.

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