Spot the (local) koalas

February 15, 2019

In response to the excitement surrounding the recent koala sightings in the Bingara area, Gwydir Ark would like to invite interested people to attend our first walk for 2019. This walk will take place in an area where there have been koala sightings and we will be eagerly trying to spot them.

The koala is an arboreal marsupial whose closest relative is the wombat. Their diet consists mainly of eucalyptus leaves which are fibrous and low in nutrition. Koalas are mostly nocturnal and sleep between 18 to 20 hours each day. This helps them to conserve the energy required to digest such a difficult diet.

Bingara is lucky to have had recent sightings of the koalas, as they are listed by both the NSW State and Commonwealth governments as vulnerable. Population numbers have hurtled downwards following the recent changes to state land clearing laws.

The iconic marsupial is also threatened by the bacterial disease chlamydia. The koalas found in our area have included both individuals free from the disease and some that have been infected. Infected koalas can be treated with antibiotics.

Warialda and Delungra are also known koala habitats. Many people ask how big a range do koalas live in. This depends completely on the quality of the habitat. The area may be as small as two hectares in a healthy forest and as large as several hundred hectares in a poor quality habitat. Koalas, under most conditions, move trees a few times a day. They are most vulnerable to predators and heatstroke when they are on the ground.

Koalas are facing many threats to their continued existence. These include the already mentioned loss and fragmentation of habitat and the consequent low genetic diversity in isolated populations. Domestic and feral dog attacks also cause losses.

The recent heat wave and dry weather is not only taking a toll on us and our stock, it is catastrophic for the koala. Koalas have no way of avoiding these weather extremes, and the clearing of understory shrubs and bushes make them particularly vulnerable to heat while on the ground. There is a growing awareness of the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels on our lives and yet few of us are aware that it also impacts the nitrogen balance in eucalyptus leaves and compromises the nutritional value of feed for the koalas.

So how can we help a koala population near us?

• Keep vegetation on your block. Don’t destroy eucalypts and understory native vegetation.

• Plant feed and shelter trees. Gwydir Ark recently undertook such a planting at the Living Classroom and would be happy to share information about suitable trees for our area.

• Carry the phone number for your local wildlife rescue group in case you see sick or injured koalas.

• Dispense watering points in times of drought or extreme heat.

• Watch for koala signs on roads. They have poor eyesight and often fall victim to road kill.

• Keep dogs restrained. Many koalas are injured or killed by dog attack.

And finally, become acquainted with this marsupial in your own local area. Come, bring your children and join Gwydir Ark as we search for this iconic Australian animal on Sunday February 23. We will meet at Cunningham Park at 5pm. Sturdy boots, long trousers, binoculars, water and nibblies are all recommended. Also recommended are crossed figures that we actually find some!

We look forward to seeing you there.