Hope in the drought for koalas

September 7, 2019

This year has been incredibly busy for local koala rescues as a result of the persistent drought conditions, with a strong outcome of many sick or injured koalas returning back to their home territory.  Five healthy young koalas being successfully rescued and released thanks to specialist care and advice from Port Maquarie Koala Hospital and the wonderful assistance of many volunteers along the way.

Koala drinker

Koala drinker

On January 1st 2019 a small joey koala was rescued at Gineroi, near Bingara. “She was found on the road after a windstorm on a very hot day by local Landholder Phillip Butler, and so she was called “Phillipa”,” explains WIRES volunteer, Elizabeth Kakoschke.

“Dehydrated and too small to survive on her own, she was taken into care.” After initial care and rehydration by Elizabeth, the joey was transferred to WIRES Koala specialist carer Denise Friedman at Uralla where she was cared for, for several months. “Phillipa” was then transferred to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital for the last stage of her rehabilitation, to build up enough strength and skill for release – learn how to be a koala, in specially designed pre-release yards.

On the 21st of August “Phillipa” returned home to Gineroi, welcomed back by several members of the Gineroi Landcare group. One important change was made in anticipation of her homecoming, a purpose built drinker. “This source of water for koalas and other wildlife is vitally important in these current drought conditions and the drinker was able to be supplied as a funded project by the newly formed Landcare Group, North West Koala A.R.K.S. (‘Areas of Regional Koala Significance’)” explains Elizabeth.

On release “Phillipa” quickly scampered up the tree and tucked into eucalyptus leaf looking both relaxed and pleased to return to familiar territory. In the heat of February, local Warialda resident John Hodge made two sad discoveries. He found two dead koalas near the Warialda water treatment works and then made the connection that during the harsh dry heat of summer, local koalas were unsuccessfully trying to access water behind the fenced off area. John found a third koala unwell at the base of a tree. This time the koala was weak but alive and had a sore eye.

WIRES was contacted and the little female koala “Arch-she” was captured and examined by local veterinarian, Michelle Coulton, then transferred to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital for specialist attention. Whilst “Arch-she” was away, John Hodge conveyed his concerns for the local koala population to Gwydir Shire Council. Watering points were established for the koalas and other thirsty wildlife, and a habitat planting started. “It is hoped that similar watering points for koalas and other wildlife can be replicated across the North West, which has already shown to be effective at Gunnedah through the efforts of Gunnedah Landholder Robert Frend, other Landcare water projects, and the ongoing research of Dr Valentina Mella and Sydney University.”

The plight of koalas was featured on the series ‘The Magical Land of Oz’, which is available on Facebook and iView, and was filmed at Gunnedah. After successful treatment for chlamydia, “Arch-she” was returned home where she was found and was welcomed home by youths from Challenge Disability Services, who were also assisting with koala tree planting.

“Arch-she” has been seen in the area several times since release and doing very well. Early treatment of the disease not only saved “Arch-she”, but it also has prevented this devastating disease spreading further through the koala colony thanks to wonderful care given at Port Macquarie.

In August 2018 “Geoff” was orphaned as a small joey when his mother was killed by a dog. He was again cared for by Denise Friedman for several months then transferred to Port Macquarie for health checks and the final stage of his rehabilitation. Geoff was released on the 30th of May 2019, in perfect koala health, a week after Arch-she, to the same tree where a drinker is installed at Warialda.  To ensure that on a hot day in the future, both koalas would know where to return to get a drink.

Gum Flat “Tag” was rescued by landholder Dee Delany after he was found near her house. Other than dehydration “Tag” was also found to be disease and injury free so he was released back to where he was rescued after a few weeks in care.

Identifying koalas in need of care in the early stages of having problems and contacting wildlife care groups has certainly seen better outcomes.

The last koala rescue was at Delungra, a young female koala “Amanda”, who was found low on a palm tree after being observed on a fence for two days prior. She was dehydrated and a little thin so it was thought best that “Amanda” have a check up at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. Much to the delight of all, she recovered quickly and was released back home to Delungra, at Delungra Primary School where water is provided, and a known koala corridor exists. The school students were delighted to see her release, thinking possibly she had been seen before at the school, as a joey riding on mums back a few months before.

“It is wonderful that there have been so many releases this year compared to other years, where there has been a lot of heartache with koala rescues.” Disease, road strike and dog attacks have all claimed many koalas in our area. Habitat loss though is their greatest threat. “Road signage is very important so if you see a koala sign, please ‘slow down in koala country’.”

Currently, it is mating season so koalas are moving around more and last year’s young are dispersing. Another hope for koalas is communities that care and look out for their resident koalas. During periods of drought, birds and animals including koalas flock to ‘mesic refuge zones’, areas where water can be found and trees still have moisture in their leaves, either in low lying areas, gardens or areas where artesian water is relatively close to the surface of the ground and tree roots can access this hidden water.

“NW Koala ARKS is aiming to provide water to areas of known koala presence to help koalas survive over the dry times and koalas are a flagship species; by helping koalas many other life forms benefit,” explains Elizabeth.