Cool country and Bingara see more koalas

April 26, 2017

The cooler climate of the Northern Tablelands could prove an important refuge for koala populations and other animals in NSW as heatwaves become more frequent. Field work on the Cool Country Koalas project is nearing completion following extensive surveys in the Delungra and Ashford regions, and also in the area from Black Mountain south to Nowendoc.  The findings are expected to be released in late autumn.

Cool Country Koala project team members put the scats found by Maya in a paper bag.

John Williams and Nancy Capel took part in the Cool Country Koalas survey, which involved a visit to their farm at Rob Roy. Two researchers, plus the koala detection dog, Maya, visited our farm in November,” Nancy said. “I accompanied them on part of their survey. They marked out an area in the creek and put Maya to work finding scats (droppings).

Maya, Koala sniffer dog

“To the command ‘find, find, find’ Maya would sniff through the long grass and when she found a scat, she would stop and wag her tail. She was rewarded with a tennis ball to play with while an accurate GPS reading was taken. “Almost all the trees in the area had scats under them, although we did not find any koalas that morning.”

Nancy said that koalas often visit her garden. “All of the eucalypt trees, and some exotics, in the garden have scats under them,” she said. “We also keep bowls of water under the trees to encourage them to stay longer in the trees.”

Koala photographed at Rob Roy.

There have been several sightings of koala in the Bingara area in recent months. Local electrician, Michael Hayes, saw a koala on the road between Bingara and Warialda, while another man reported seeing a koala cross the Gwydir Highway and climb a tree in the centre of Delungra. Damian and Tiffany Galvin have seen two koalas on their Whitlow Road property.

Local animal rescuer, Liz Kakoschke, was involved in trying to save a young male; very thin and chlamydia positive, found on the river near Sunnyside. “Sadly, he didn’t make it due to advanced disease,” Liz said. “Males are more susceptible to disease as they get kicked out and must find more girls.

“Koalas were certainly very active at both Delungra and Warialda early this year. They move quietly through the landscape …unless it’s mating season. “Tiger pear is one of the threatening processes here.

Through the LLS, a project ‘Taming the Tiger’ has seen a biological control greenhouse set up at the Living Classroom,” Liz said.

Ellie Skinner and Georgie Butler have both seen koalas by the Gwydir Highway between Delungra and Inverell. “It was so cute. It was just watching the world go by from a koala’s perspective,” Georgie said. Ellie has also seen koalas near the junction of the Gwydir Highway Bingara road near Warialda.

“The information gathered in the Cool Country Koalas project will help us implement strategies relevant to the local area that will protect and enhance existing koala habitat,” said Carina Johnson, Cool Country Koalas project officer with Northern Tablelands Local Land Services. “The data we have gathered will also feed into the NSW Government’s Saving our Species Iconic Cool Country Koala Project which aims to secure the survival of the koala in the wild in NSW.”

Research on koalas west of the Great Dividing Range, cited in a report by the NSW Chief Scientist, indicates there has been a dramatic decline in koala populations of up to 80% since the 1990s, due partly to drought and extreme heatwaves. Climate scientists have warned hotter summers could become the new norm. The Independent Review into the Decline of Koala Populations suggests the impact of extreme weather events on koalas is likely to increase. Predicted climate change is also expected to exacerbate other threats to the species such as disease. “Koalas have likely been struggling in inland areas like Moree where prolonged hot weather has broken new records over summer,” said Carina Johnson.

Early findings of the Cool Country Koalas project indicated that previously strong populations around Ashford and along the Severn River may be suffering too. “We hope that the higher elevations and significantly cooler climate of the Northern Tablelands might provide a refuge for koala populations in northern NSW,” said Carina. According to Environmental Consultant, John Lemon, the Northern Tablelands could prove extremely important to the future of koalas in NSW, “Prior to 2008, I would observe between 8 and 12 koalas a week during my daily three-kilometre morning walk at the Gunnedah Research Centre. In the last six months at GRC I have sighted only one koala,” said John.

“Long term, cooler areas like the Northern Tablelands are likely to become a refuge not only for koalas, but for birds and other animals too as they move east to escape the heat. We are already seeing some bird species turning up in regions that are well east of their known range.” The Cool Country Koalas project is an initiative of the Northern Tablelands Koala Recovery Strategy funded through Catchment Action NSW.

For more information about the Cool Country Koala project contact Carina Johnson at Northern Tablelands Local Land Services on 02 6770 2000.