All posts by echidnaw

About echidnaw

we're a wildlife IN THE WILD tour operator. Our mission is to ensure the free-living future of Australian wildlife, and to give them a voice. Wild animals have inherent value, as wild creatures, but we need to learn to value them. Good, respectful, sustainable wildlife tourism gives them a value and a voice.

What do koalas eat after a bush fire?

Usually, if a koala has survived the fire, it is because their tree survived the fire and shielded them. Koalas probably go into the thickest, leafiest tree they can find as a fire approaches. Those trees tend to slow the fire, and protect the wildlife within them.

The koala will eat the leaf of that tree, and any others that survived, for the next 4-5 weeks until the new growth appears. The leaves might be a bit dry, but they still seem to provide some nutrition. Their biggest problem is thirst.

koala after fire in burnt tree
mature female koala “Ingrid” four months after the fire.  She survived without any human interference.

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If they stay in that tree they might not be burnt at all.

Mature female koala “Ingrid” survived the 2006 intense Brisbane Ranges fire. She was never captured, partly because she was always too high in the tree.  We worried about her, but over weeks of monitoring we saw no sign of injury, burns or malnutrition.

Ingrid survived until at least August 2007, 17 months after the fire, with no help from humans.

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Ingrid about to eat epicormic growth on a Manna Gum

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If a koala changes trees soon after the fire, they might get burnt hands and feet and might need medical attention.

Mature male “Bear” survived the fire in a large Cherry Ballart Exocarpos cupressiformis. He must have changed trees within a day or two of the fire (as he needed to – koalas can’t eat Cherry Ballart) and he was found with 2nd degree burns to hands and feet.  He was taken into care, his wounds treated, then released about 3 weeks after the fire.

He lived at least until March 2007, 14 months after the fire, when he left his home range.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
male koala Bear 13 months after the fire

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These bushfires are not the end for all our koalas.  It has set them back, but its not over.  Decisive, science-based action, taken soon, will ensure that they have a future.

 

Read what you can do to help koalas here. 

 

 

healthy koala survived fire

Tree Planting After Bushfire

We’re getting a lot of requests to plant trees for koalas after the bushfires in burnt areas.

That won’t work.

But tree planting for koalas elsewhere in their range will work.

Let me tell you why.

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1. Burnt areas regenerate themselves.

Firstly, after a bush fire, burnt areas usually regenerate themselves. Some eucalyptus trees survive the fire and send out epicormic growth within a few weeks of the fire. *epicormic: shoots from buds under the bark

In the intense Anakie-Brisbane Ranges bushfire of 2006, Red Stringybark Eucalyptus macrorhyncha, Messmate E. obliqua and Broad-leaf Peppermint E. dives, some Manna & Swamp Gums survived and produced their first leaves 4-5 weeks after the fire.

tree recovering after bushfire
First epicormic leaves on a Manna Gum, 33 days after the fire

Other eucalyptus trees do not survive above the ground, but their root system lives. They produce lignotuber* growth from the roots that eventually become new trunks of trees. *lignotuber: a woody swelling of the root crown that produces shoots after fire

Some Manna Gum E. viminalis and Swamp Gum E. ovata trunks did not survive the 2006 fire but had new growth from the base within 5 weeks.

swamp gum epicormic growth after fire
epicormic and lignotuber growth on a Swamp Gum, 6 weeks after fire.

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Read: What do koalas eat straight after the fire?

After the fire has passed, and rain falls, seed from eucalyptus and wattle trees falls and germinates quickly. The forest becomes very thick, very fast. Within a year of the fire, the forest will be almost too thick to walk through.

eucalyptus-fire-regen-050407p2low
Thick regrowth 14 months after the fire

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It is possible in a very hot bush-fire, that none of the trees or seed have survived. But I’d be surprised. Eucalypts – especially their roots – can survive the most intense fires.  However, experts are concerned that regeneration may be slower than normal, due to the drought conditions that preceded this fire season.

Tree planting after bushfire in burnt areas is not recommended or practical in most cases.

koala after fire in burnt tree
mature female koala “Ingrid” four months after the fire.  She survived without any human interference.

 

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2. Some of these fires are in National Parks and on public land.

Most bushfire-affected parks and state forests are closed for weeks or months after the fire. You are not allowed to go into them, at all, unless you are licensed to be there. Don’t be tempted – these places are dangerous, and emergency services have enough to deal with.

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Why we should plant trees elsewhere.

With these fires we have lost wildlife, wildlife habitat, and most importantly, carbon storage (1). We urgently need to create complete new forests, to offset the carbon emissions from these fires, to provide habitat for wildlife while the burnt forest recovers, and to store more carbon.

Also, a variety of forest types – riverside linear forests, hilltop forests, wet forests, dry forests – spread across the landscape will protect more wildlife from future fires.

A vast network of tree plantings on private land, all over Australia, could keep our koalas alive in the face of climate change and the fires to come.

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Planting trees after these bushfires is the best action to take to ensure koalas have a future.

If you are local to Melbourne & Geelong, join one of our Koala Conservation Days for Locals and help us plant trees or remove weeds.  If you are from overseas or interstate, join one of our tours: your contribution ensures that tree planting continues, months after you’ve gone home.

 

healthy koala survived fire
female koala “Ingrid” still healthy 28 months after the fire

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NOTES & REFERENCES:

(1) at a conservative calculation of 200 tonnes of carbon stored per hectare of forest, and a burnt area of 10 million hectares, we have lost around 2billion tonnes of carbon storage in these fires.  But I’m no expert on this – hopefully there will be some scientific analysis soon.

The Guardian December 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/13/australias-bushfires-have-emitted-250m-tonnes-of-co2-almost-half-of-countrys-annual-emissions

ABC News December 2019: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-12/nsw-qld-bushfires-could-increase-carbon-footprint-scientists-say/11789504

wild koala joey needs lots of trees planted

How many trees does a koala need?

It is well known that koalas need eucalyptus (gum) trees. But how many gum trees do koalas need to survive, breed and thrive?

The answer depends on the location, but in most locations, koalas need more trees than you think.

koalas need many trees to survive

 

In fertile, wet, coastal Queensland and New South Wales koalas might only need 400 trees each. In dry western Victoria koalas might need 20,000 trees each.

In the You Yangs, our research has found that wild koalas need 7,000 to 30,000 trees.

Whichever way you look at it, koalas need a lot more trees planted. They also need the trees to be in fertile soil with high moisture.  Read why koalas need trees in rivers and drainage lines here. 

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How to estimate how many trees a koala needs.

Here’s a summary of the home range sizes and tree estimate* for wild koalas in the You Yangs in 2017:

*tree estimate is based on mature eucalyptus trees at a spacing of 5m x 5m (so one tree every 5 m). This gives 400 trees per hectare (ha). In fact there are more trees than that in most koala home ranges. Acacias, Cherry Ballarts, Melaleucas and other important koala roost trees are not counted.

FEMALES:

Pat (older female 13 yo): 18.3 hectares      = minimum 7,320 trees

Ngardang (young female): 30.9ha               = min. 12,360 trees

Misty (mature female): 22.5ha                     = min. 9,000 trees

MALES:

Winberry (older male): 46.8ha         = min. 18,720 trees

Clancy (mature male): 47.4ha           = min. 18,960 trees

Anzac (older male): 34.9ha                = min. 13,960 trees

Cruiz (older male): 66.9ha                 = min. 26,760 trees

Average koala home range size in You Yangs = 38.2ha

(to calculate an average, add all the home range sizes you have together, then divide by how many home ranges you have)

To find the average home range size of koalas (in hectares) in your area check this information:

VICTORIA

1.2 hectare (females) & 1.7 ha (males)  on French Island, coastal east Vic
23.9 ha (females ) & 37.3 ha (males)     in You Yangs, inland west Vic

QUEENSLAND:

15 ha (females) & 34 ha (males)           at south-east Qld
8 ha  (females) & 16 ha (males)            at Brisbane, south-east Qld.
101 ha (females) & 135 ha (males)       at Blair Athol, central Qld

NEW SOUTH WALES:

11ha (females) & 45 ha (males)           at Pilliga Forest, north-west NSW
10ha (females) & 23 ha (males)           at Coffs Harbour, coastal NSW
44ha (females) & 82 ha (males)           at Lismore, inland north-east NSW

This excellent article gives a table of the known koala home range size in different parts of Australia, and details the different methods used to calculate them:
Goldingay, Ross L, and Barbara Dobner. “Home Range Areas of Koalas In an Urban Area of North-east New South Wales.” Australian mammalogy, v. 36,.1 pp. 74-80 http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.889.8407&rep=rep1&type=pdf

If in doubt, use the closest location, or use our You Yangs figures for anywhere west of the Great Dividing Range, and halve it for wet areas in coastal Queensland and New South Wales.

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How many koalas share a territory / home range?

Koalas do share some of their home space with other koalas. This is also dependent on location and soil fertility & moisture. In the You Yangs the degree of overlap is small.

In 2017 Koala Pat shared around 80% of her home range with male Anzac, and around 20% of her home range with female Misty. Misty shared about 20% of her home range with Pat & Anzac, and about 50% with male Cruiz.  This situation is typical in the You Yangs.

So home range overlap equals 2   (ie. 2 koalas are using the same area).

Finding the home range overlap in your area is even harder than estimating home range size. There is very little data.  It could be as high as 4 or 5 in some rich fertile areas, or as low as 1 in dry areas.

If in doubt, assume it is 2.

koala home range size and overlap map

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How many koala trees need to be planted?

The simple answer is as many as possible! But it does help to have an idea of how many to aim for.

First consideration is that a koala cannot live alone. Viable populations number in the hundreds or thousands of animals. If you are planning for an entire koala population, you need to be planting hundreds of thousands of trees.

how many trees do koalas need planted

If you are designing for a development that is cutting down koala habitat trees you need to be retaining enough trees for the current koala population, or planting new trees for that entire population. Leaving 100 trees “for the koalas” is not enough for even one koala.

If you are planning to help out an existing koala population, then you should try to plant for at least 10 koalas.

To estimate how many koala trees need to be planted use this calculation:

(average koala home range size in ha) x 400* trees = A / (home range overlap) = number of trees per koala. 

*400 trees per hectare. It is possible that this figure could be higher or lower depending on the fertility of the area and the size of the trees.

Around the You Yangs our calculation looks like this:

38.2 x 400 = 15,280 / 2 = 7,640 trees needed per koala.

7,640 x 10 koalas = 76,400 trees to be helpful.

And to provide for the entire koala population of the You Yangs:

127 koalas x 7640 trees = 970,280 trees.
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Please don’t be put off by these numbers – any tree is better than no tree. But aim high. This is urgent.

chart showing wild koala population decline over 11 years

Read more about the koala population decline in the You Yangs here.

Koala Clancy Foundation have very proudly planted nearly 8,000 trees in the last 3 years. It feels like a lot, but it is not nearly enough.  Please help, by sharing this post, by alerting landowners, by attending one of our Koala Conservation Days, by donating.

koala clancy foundation tree planting near You Yangs Victoria

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Koala Clancy Foundation are running our second annual Koala Tree Planting Information Event on Thursday 28 November at 7.30pm at Balliang Hall, Balliang VIC. More information here:

https://koalaclancyfoundation.org.au/component/jevents/eventdetail/91/-/koalas-and-tree-planting-information-event-balliang

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NOTES & REFERENCES:

Ellis W. A. H. , Melzer A. , Carrick F. N. Hasegawa M. (2002) Tree use, diet and home range of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) at Blair Athol, central Queensland. Wildlife Research 29, 303-311. http://www.publish.csiro.au/WR/WR00111

Moore Benjamin D. Foley William J. (2000) A review of feeding and diet selection in koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus). Australian Journal of Zoology 48, 317-333.
http://www.publish.csiro.au/zo/ZO99034

Koalas Need Farmers & planting in drainage lines: https://koalaclancy.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/koalas-need-farmers/

Koala Population Decline in the You Yangs: https://koalaclancy.wordpress.com/2018/11/04/koala-population-decline-in-the-you-yangs-victoria/

Koalas & fires 2019/2020: What can you do?

by Koala Clancy, Victoria.

My friends, myself and my wild koala family are currently safe in Victoria, but at this moment Australia is in a catastrophic fire emergency.

Unprecedented bushfires are burning along the coast and ranges of New South Wales and Queensland. They are caused by climate change. The area has been suffering terrible drought for 18 months, and extreme heat for months.

Carol Sparks, the Mayor of Glen Innes Severn, NSW, a community that have lost 2 people and countless homes, farms and wildlife to these fires, said:

“The anger is real. The anger is justified. Because this disaster was all foreseen and predicted. For decades the link between a hotter, drier climate, land-clearing, excessive irrigation and increased fire risk have all been attested in scientific papers.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/nov/11/weve-been-in-bushfire-hell-in-glen-innes-and-the-scientists-knew-it-was-coming

 

I’ve compiled some maps to show the extent of the crisis.

UPDATE 12 January 2020:  It got worse.  Since this post bushfires raged through East Gippsland Victoria and Kangaroo Island, SA and the Adelaide Hills, SA (see map below).

Map: Australia extent of bushfires November 2019
Extent of fires in NSW & QLD at November 2019
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Rough map of fires in SA & Vic January 2020

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Below are two maps showing the vast size of recent fires compared to the size of the UK and eastern states of the USA.

Australia extent of bushfires November 2019 compared to size of UK

Australia bush fires compared to USA eastern states

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For koalas, this is a tragedy. The fires are burning in prime koala habitat, in areas where koala populations are already threatened.  The map below shows koala habitat in northern New South Wales.

koala habitat impacted by November 2019 NSW bush fires

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This map shows the same area, and how much country has been burnt in these fires.

extent of bush fires Northern New South Wales November 2019

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What can you do? Sadly, there’s nothing you can do to stop this right now.  Fire professionals are fighting hard.  Australians are digging deep to support wildlife rescue organisations.  The few animals that have survived will be very well cared for.

An emergency fundraiser for koalas in Port Macquarie was hoping for $25,000 – they already have $342,000! 

 

But you might be able to stop it happening again, and again, and again.  Support climate action. Support Greta Thunberg and climate strikes around the world. Support the NGOs who are fighting with all their might to stop the fossil fuel criminals destroying our world and our wildlife:

Get Up: https://www.getup.org.au/

Australian Conservation Foundation https://www.acf.org.au/

Greenpeace https://www.greenpeace.org.au/

350.org https://350.org.au/

BirdLife Australia: https://birdlife.org.au/

WWF https://www.wwf.org.au/

Climate Action Network Australia: https://www.cana.net.au/

The Climate Council: https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/

Farmers for Climate Action: https://www.farmersforclimateaction.org.au/

Extinction Rebellion: https://ausrebellion.earth/

(Yes, I know they are big organisations and you might wonder whether your support is getting to where its needed.  It is.  We need to fight this on every level – at the local and grass-roots, and the big international level.  It takes big organisations to fight big polluters and governments. We can’t do this without them.)

Whenever you can remove your support from the climate criminals: Exxon-Mobil, BP, Chevron, Shell, BHP, Rio Tinto.  Because just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of the emissions that are killing koalas right now. 

These criminals not only cause the emissions, they have been throwing billions into stopping renewables and climate-saving technology since the 1970’s.  So even though you, the people, have been trying to limit your emissions, these criminals have been undoing all your good work.

And please, please, please think about this next time you vote.

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NOTES & REFERENCES:

 

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change?fbclid=IwAR16FNXOVPXCgmCDY7djsn3QhlWwFceFI2mxbId0-M5yLaXRt6eoTnrZE5c

You Yangs region map Victoria Australia

Process and Terms of Reference: You Yangs Master Plan

Parks Victoria (PV) are currently in the process of creating a Master Plan and Business Case for future Government investment in the You Yangs and Serendip Sanctuary”.

Submission deadline is 16 October.

The public has not been formally invited to make submissions, but instead a survey has been created. We (Echidna Walkabout & Koala Clancy Foundation) have not seen any paid advertising* of the process, and PV has relied on their web and stakeholders to distribute the survey.  “Input” and “feedback” is sought from the public online through the survey, which is leading, poorly-explained at times and leaves little room for comment.

There will be two Public Drop-In Sessions on 10 October and 12 October (which, to our knowledge, have not been advertised* in any local or regional media yet).  Late-in-the-process meetings leave little time for the community to make an informed submission.  Not advertising* these meetings in the media almost ensures a poor turnout.

PUBLIC DROP-IN SESSIONS:

  • Little River, Mechanic’s Institute Hall, Thursday, 10 October 2019, 4:30 – 6:30pm
  • Lara, Lara Hall Saturday, 12 October 2019, 10:30am – 12:30pm

Parks Victoria are required and expected to consult with the community.  In fact their own Statement of Obligation between the Minister for Energy, Environment & Climate Change and Parks Victoria states on page 2:

4. GUIDING PRINCIPLES:

4.1 (c) “the community should be placed at the centre of park planning and management”

We are concerned that this process does not put the community at the centre of park planning.

In addition, the Terms of Reference of the project have not been publicly disclosed.

So we asked for the Terms of Reference and received these answers: (our questions in bold)

1. What are the Terms of Reference for your contract?

Consultants at GHD have been engaged to:

  • review the current visitor experience at the You Yangs and Serendip Sanctuary
    recommend improvements to facilities and the visitor experience
  • investigate opportunities to protect and enhance the history of Traditional Owners, including developing cultural tourism concepts
  • consider the wildlife and environmental aspects of the site
  • analyse opportunities to diversify the current popular mountain bike offering
  • consider how visitation could be dispersed across the region to balance the expected increase in visitation to the area with growing nearby populations and the commencement of international arrivals at Avalon airport
  • develop a master plan to inform the business case

 

2. What are the Business Case objectives of the project?

This project will produce a Masterplan and Business Case for potential options to revitalise You Yangs Regional Park and Serendip Sanctuary.

The Business Case will examine the economic feasibility of identified options and ideas, and will be submitted to the state government for consideration.
Given that Tourism Greater Geelong and the Bellarine are closely associated with the project:

  • what are the specific tourism based objectives that you are considering?
  • have you been asked to consider a business model for international wildlife tourism into the region?

The Business Case will explore the feasibility of options to revitalise the area, increasing visitation and contribution to the local economy.

Options will be identified through stakeholder engagement and input, however upgrades to the park’s existing trail network; creation of new connections to nearby towns; capitalising on proximity to Geelong, Avalon Airport and Melbourne; and enhancing the area’s significant Aboriginal cultural values are all important aspects that will be considered.

At this early stage in the process there are no specific business models being proposed or considered.
3. Can you tell me who the Project Control Group comprises of?

The PCG includes Parks Victoria, Regional Development Victoria, Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation (Wadawurrung), Tourism Geelong and Bellarine, Visit Victoria, and the City of Greater Geelong.

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To make a submission or fill out the survey click here.  DEADLINE 16 October.

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Echidna Walkabout & Koala Clancy Foundation

4 October 2019

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Our detailed response to the Master Plan is outlined here

Our public request for submissions can be seen here:

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NOTES, LINKS & REFERENCES:

*advertising: there appears to have been no paid advertising in the media as yet.  Like for planning applications, we would expect to see paid ads in local papers for a public meeting of this importance.  We have found one mention on a Bay FM blog, which may have come about from a press release from PV, or from an alert from a member of the public.

The survey: https://engage.vic.gov.au/future-investment-you-yangs-and-serendip-sanctuary

Parks Victoria Statement of Obligation: https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/729419/Special-gazette-SOO.pdf

3 generations of koala dynasty: 1 year old male

3 generations of a Koala Dynasty, in one day!

Yesterday (21 February, 2019) was an amazing day. Grandmother koala, her daughter, her granddaughter and grandson were all found on the same day, in the same area of the You Yangs, near Melbourne Australia.

Koala Researcher Bart found Lakorra, the 2 year old daughter of Ngardang, hanging out in an area she had shared with her mother a year ago.  We last saw her in October 2018, four months ago, so we were thrilled and a little relieved.

3 generations of koala dynasty: 2 year old female

Then Koala Researcher Hannah found Ngardang, Lakorra’s mother. She was just 150m away from her independent daughter.

3 generations of koala dynasty: 5 year old female

Wildlife Guide Martin and his group came along, and while looking at Ngardang they found Bunyip in the tree next door. Bunyip is Ngardang’s 1 year old son (with Clancy), and Lakorra’s little brother.

3 generations of koala dynasty: 1 year old male

It’s wonderful to see a little family of koalas – mum and two kids.

But it got even better.

Just down the track, guest Carolyn looked up and saw another koala, high in an Ironbark tree.

Martin quickly confirmed it was Babarrang, the grandmother! 3 koala generations in one day!

3 generations of koala dynasty: 9 year old female

We think Babarrang is about 9 years old. Babarrang gave birth to Ngardang in 2014. Mother and daughter continue to live near each other – their home ranges adjoin each others.

Read about Babarrang’s Dynasty here.
Learning which koalas are related, just by observation, takes many years of research. We watch as koala joeys are born and become independent. We take note of their nose patterns, which remain a reliable indicator throughout life. Most disperse, leaving our research area. But sometimes we get lucky and a joey will stay. Some females set up a home range within, or overlapping their mother’s.

Then, if we are really lucky, a female joey will grow up and have her own babies, as Ngardang has done, still within our research area. And all three generations will be there together.

If Lakorra stays and has a joey this year, we will have four generations! How exciting!

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All this was seen on a Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD tour, near Melbourne. The wild koala research that provided all this information about Babarrang’s family is funded by tourists who participate in this small group eco-tour.

 

Read more about our non-intrusive wild koala research project here.

Koala mother scratches her back while joey hangs on

Koala joeys ride on their mother’s back from about the age of 7 to 9 months.

MARA-pickle-koala-joey-you-yangs-230818mwp26wmlowtext
Mara: Ooh, I feel an itch…

But what happens if mum wants to groom (scratch) her back?  Wooooo!  Watch out joey Pickle!!

MARA-pickle-230818mwp24wmlowjpg
Pickle: Oops! Incoming!!

OOh, that was close! Those big claws could do damage!

Mother koalas, like Mara here, are very aware of their tiny joey backpacks, and wouldn’t hurt them – after all, they’ve worked very hard to make them!  By the time a koala joey is on its mother’s back, its been in the pouch for 6 months, and then another month or two on her belly.   She has to eat more gum leaves and get lots of moisture to create milk to feed the youngster, and this is a big effort for an animal living on a low-energy diet.

Watch as another mother koala – Ngardang – looks out for her joey whilst climbing through an obstacle course of branches. 

But joeys like Pickle also have to look out for themselves.  By one year they have to be independent, so the quicker they learn, the better.

MARA-pickle-230818mwp27wmlow
Pickle: Are you right now mum?

Mara and her 2018 joey Pickle live in the You Yangs, west of Melbourne and north of Geelong.  They are monitored by Echidna Walkabout’s Wild Koala Research Project – a project supported by travellers.

Read all about the lives of wild koalas Mara and Pickle here.

Great pics by Echidna Walkabout Wildlife Guide Michael Williams.

 

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Michael Williams is also a professional wildlife photographer. See more of his work here: http://www.itsawildlife.com.au/

 

 

 

You Yangs koala adult male face

Koala population decline in the You Yangs, Victoria

Awful, but hopeful.

In preparation for our first Koalas & Tree Planting community event on November 15, 2018 I felt that a graph would best show the decline in koala population. Little did I know how powerful that would be.

chart showing wild koala population decline over 11 years

This is a terrible graph, charting the premature deaths of many koalas. But it is also a hopeful graph.

Hopeful? What??

Yes, because in the You Yangs we now know we have a problem. And once a problem is known, action can be taken to fix it.

cuddles-baby-koala-you-yangs-281116klp09wmlowtext

The simple fact is that the same catastrophic declines are happening everywhere.  These findings are in line with WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report, that shows a 60% decline in wild animal* populations worldwide.

But its hard to make decision-makers listen if you don’t have data.  Now we have data.  Now we are taking action.

At our Koalas & Tree Planting Event in Little River on November 15, 2018 we showed and explained these images, and others.  Learn how everyone can do something to save our koalas and turn this graph around.

See the presentation here.

An explanation of the graph

We started koala research in the You Yangs in January 2006 – ten years into the Millenium Drought: the worst drought in Australia’s history. The koalas had been suffering since 1996, and would not get any relief until 2010.

The first year of research gave us a foundation to work on, so by 2007 we had a clear picture of the population. We could already see that there were very few joeys being born.

As you can see, koala numbers fell significantly each year until 2010 when they plummeted. We lost one-third of our koalas over the summer of 2009-2010. Thankfully, the rain came in 2010 and gave us some relief.

chart showing wild koala population decline over 11 years

The next few years saw a return to near-normal rainfall conditions, and small increases to the koala population. But koalas living in poor habitat don’t breed that fast. Most of our females breed from age 2 to 8 years, and some only have a joey every second year. A few of our females don’t ever successfully breed at all.

Importantly, the trees have not recovered. The rains kept them alive, but weren’t enough to make them thrive again.

Here’s two pictures of the same River Red Gum tree, in 2008: 12 years into a drought (when you would think it would be at its worst); and in 2015: after 5 years of ‘normal’ rainfall.

And no, its not just that tree.  Take a walk in the You Yangs – the River Red Gums are in poor condition right across the park. See some other then and now pictures of the forest here. 

comparison of River Red Gum tree in You Yangs from 2008 to 2015

Koalas suffer from poor tree condition long before we can see the tree is in poor condition.

The koalas and the trees of the You Yangs haven’t had time to return to pre-drought levels of fitness. And now, in 2018, we’re in another drought.

We have to act decisively to save the koalas of the You Yangs. The current trajectory is a recipe for local extinction.

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What can we do?

We can’t make it rain.

But we do have a plan. Plant koala trees downhill in the river valleys and drainage lines of the Western Plains. It was koala habitat in the past, and could be again. Beside the rivers the soil is wetter than in the You Yangs. The correct local indigenous trees will grow fast there.

Read how we plant koala trees in “Koalas Need Farmers”

In addition, on hot days, wind blowing across waterholes and dams is cooler than the surrounding air. Trees along rivers and around waterholes and dams are highly preferred by koalas on hot days.

We can stop the local extinction of koalas in the You Yangs region. Act now.

We are running another Koala Tree Planting Event on 28 November 2019 in Balliang. Please come along. https://koalaclancyfoundation.org.au/component/jevents/eventdetail/91/-/koalas-and-tree-planting-information-event-balliang

koala clancy foundation tree planting near You Yangs Victoria

How did we get this data?

A koala research project started by Janine Duffy grew into a comprehensive research project involving 20 people monitoring +/- 43 koalas 310+ days a year. Around 3600 koala observations are taken every year. Funding for the project comes from a social enterprise tourism operation: Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours.

Echidna Walkabout’s Wild Koala Research Project is the only research on koalas in the You Yangs, and one of very few projects monitoring a natural (non-abundant) population of koalas in Victoria.

Read about our 2017 summary of Wild Koala Research in the You Yangs here.

REFERENCES & NOTES:

*vertebrate animals: mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds.

https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2018

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000s_Australian_drought

volunteer tree planting near Melbourne

Koalas need farmers

Up to 80% of wild koalas live on private land throughout Australia.

Koalas live on farms

Koalas don’t need just any old trees. They need fertile, waterfront habitat – trees with high moisture content, and cool breezes to keep them alive through hot summers. Climate change is drying them out and overheating them.

Read how many trees a koala needs here.

Koala suffering from heat climate change

The riverside land koalas need is mostly on farms. Where farms have intact native vegetation along their drainage lines, koalas can live. But many farms around the You Yangs don’t have that.

Around Little River/the You Yangs and the Brisbane Ranges the hills are dry. In the past, there was enough rain to support koala populations in these hills. But now, koalas are disappearing from these places.

See our graph of koala population decline in the You Yangs here. 

Koalas need to move downstream/downhill – out of the dry hills and into the valleys where the farms are. Right now, the streamside habitat they need doesn’t exist.

Farmers have demonstrated that they can be champions of koalas. The most famous is Jack (John) Lemon, Gunnedah farmer, who turned his region into “The Koala Capital of NSW” by planting koala trees on his farm. The movement grew, and in less than 10 years the koala population had increased.

There is widespread understanding of the value of native vegetation to farms. Many farmers want trees on parts of their land, and will go to great personal effort to plant trees. Landcare Australia has a huge membership, primarily farmers, and plants millions of trees. Most of the large native plantings around the You Yangs have been organised by farmers through Landcare.

Koalas can’t rely on national parks anymore. Koalas need farms, and farmers.

farmer planting trees for koalas

With this knowledge, and 20 years of research, the Koala Clancy Foundation developed a plan to help koalas and farmers.

koala tree planting on farm

We organise targeted koala tree planting along waterways on farms. We plant locally-indigenous native trees and ecosystem species in the right location, so success rate is very high. Our planters are mature, experienced volunteers who pay a small fee to participate, which ensures their dedication. Many are members of Koala Clancy Foundation and their motivation is helping koalas.

mature experienced volunteer tree planters

Our groups are small – 15 to 25 volunteers, plus two staff leaders – and we plant around 300 trees per group per planting day. That’s not a lot, but it makes the day manageable for all involved, and we have a high volunteer return rate.

On 15 November 2018, and on 28 November 2019 Koala Clancy Foundation hosted a public meeting to talk about wild koalas on farms and private land.

The meetings are targeted towards:

  • Local landowners willing to revegetate some of their streamsides and/or drainage lines.
  • Conservation groups planning projects to help koalas.
  • Local community interested in learning about wild koalas.

The presentation is now available online here: https://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au/koala-tree-planting-victoria/

Our Koala Tree Planting Information Events will be run annually in November. Watch our website for details.

Contact: Community Engagement Co-ordinator info@koalaclancyfoundation.org.au
http://www.koalaclancyfoundation.org.au

volunteer tree planting near Melbourne

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Links to event & references:

https://treesandkoalasevent.eventbrite.com.au

https://www.facebook.com/events/549829312103827/

https://koalaclancyfoundation.org.au/

https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2012/06/gunnedah-may-hold-key-to-reversing-koala-decline/

How male koalas avoid fighting

If you search male koalas fighting you can find several YouTube videos and some sensational articles declaring that koalas fight often. But over 26 years of wild koala research we have only seen male koalas come to blows twice. So are koalas fighters or not?

We believe that male koalas avoid fighting by using a range of vocalisations, postures and behaviours. This finding is similar to that found in wild koala research at St Bees Island by University of Queensland (Ellis, W 2015) that found low rates of male-male interaction.

One of the ways that male koalas may avoid fights is discussed below.

Resident male koalas may give a range of warnings to trespassers to avoid a fight.  In two groups of observations in the You Yangs, Victoria, two different resident males approached closely to a trespasser male for a day, then left the area. We call this a close vicinity warning.  Then 5 days later and one month later respectively, when the trespasser had not left the area, the resident male moved into the tree with the trespasser.  This is a personal-space invasion warning.

One interaction resulted in some blows, but no full-blown koala fight was ever recorded between these males.

movements of 3 male koalas in the You Yangs

Following is an account of what happened and when.

We first met older male Bindjali in late 2015 in an area north west of resident male Clancy’s home range. He was seen only once that year, and three times in 2016 – once in Clancy’s home range, and twice in dominant male Winberry’s territory. He behaved like an old male who had lost his home range to another, and was living on the fringes.

Early in March 2017 Bindjali appeared and stayed in Clancy and Winberry’s home areas, causing some tension.

Bindjali and Clancy

On 11 and 12 March Bindjali was found in Clancy’s home range.

On 13 March Clancy was found 80 metres from Bindjali’s last location.

male koala movements to avoid fighting

We read this as a close vicinity warning by resident male Clancy. As koalas can smell each other very easily, a close approach like this would have been noticed by Bindjali.

The warning seemed to work, because next time Bindjali was found he was 450m away to the east – in Winberry’s home range. He didn’t stay there long – maybe because Winberry was only 250m away – and by 18 March he was back in Clancy’s home range.

But this time there was no close vicinity warning – it was time to step up the threat level. Clancy was found in the same tree as him, giving Bindjali a personal-space invasion warning.

how koalas avoid fights

male koala confident posture

We watched the two males for some time. Clancy was relaxed, resting stretched out, and looking directly at Bindjali frequently. Bindjali was submissive, keeping his body low to the branch, moving slowly and furtively as if trying to avoid attracting attention.

do male koalas fight often

Watch:

The following day, 19 March, Bindjali had moved just 30m to the north and Clancy was nowhere to be found. That struck us as odd – wouldn’t Bindjali try to get as far away as possible? Obviously we don’t know everything that transpires between male koalas.

Then Bindjali disappeared from the area and was not seen again until 1 April, in Winberry’s home range. Clancy was seen on 26 March, back where Bindjali had been, then stayed around the vicinity, as if he was just checking that the trespasser had finally moved on.

We never saw Bindjali in Clancy’s home range again.

Bindjali and Winberry

Bindjali appeared in Winberry’s home range on 1 April. At this time Winberry was 500m away – at the other end of his home range. But it didn’t take him long to figure out what Bindjali was up to.

On 2 April Winberry had moved directly towards Bindjali and was within 280m of him, and when next found on 14 April Winberry was right in his face – only 60m from Bindjali’s location on 9 April.

This was Winberry’s close vicinity warning.

map of male koala interactions movements

Bindjali stayed around that area. He was seen again on 20 April and 23 April in Winberry’s home range.

On 3 May Bindjali was found dangerously far within Winberry’s home range. By then Winberry must have had enough and had to deliver a personal-space invasion warning. On 13 May Winberry and Bindjali were found in the same tree.

male koalas fighting

This encounter was even more tense than the one with Clancy. Wildlife Guide Brett Howell heard Bindjali vocalising from some distance away. Listen:

Brett and his tour group followed the sound and came across Winberry and Bindjali quite close in the same tree. Winberry was higher, Bindjali was hanging on to a thin branch upside down. As they watched, Winberry struck at Bindjali several times with his right hand. Bindjali stayed where he was, yowling and crying.

Watch Winberry deliver his personal-space invasion warning to Bindjali:

male koala during a fight

After this the two male koalas separated – Bindjali moved down lower, unhindered by Winberry. When the observers left they had settled into a position about 2 metres apart. The koala fight seemed to have ended, for the time being.

koala fight ended

We don’t know if we saw the start, the end or just part of the fight. It is noticeable in the video that Winberry doesn’t seem to be really trying to damage Bindjali. Was he mostly sending a message? If the message was not taken, would it have escalated into a serious male koala fight?

On 15 May Bindjali had moved 80m to the north, still in Winberry’s home range, and was found again near there on 17 May. But he has never been seen again.

CONCLUSION:

Fighting between koala males is relatively rare, and little studied. No doubt koalas have found many complex ways to avoid the dangers and potential injury of physical combat. This is just two observed interactions that we found interesting in their similarity. We doubt that this is the sum total of fight avoidance behaviour and much more needs to be learned.

So what’s with all those YouTube videos of male koalas fighting?  Either there’s so many iPhones and video cameras around that even rare behaviour is getting recorded more often, or koalas in populations that are stressed, overabundant or with a shortage of food trees, fight more.  We don’t know how our modification of their environment is affecting their social behaviour.

Do you have a video or experience of male koalas fighting? We’d love to hear about it.

Note on methods:

This data was all collected by non-intrusive observation in the You Yangs by Koala Researchers and Wildlife Guides of Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours and Koala Clancy Foundation. Koalas are identified from a distance by their nose patterns and never touched. All research is paid for by social enterprise Echidna Walkabout, and is undertaken with permission of Parks Victoria.

The You Yangs koala population is located in dry open woodland dominated by River Red Gum and Yellow Gum (respectively Eucalyptus camaldulensis and E. leucoxylon). Total koala population is estimated to be around 105 individuals, and is declining at rates of around 46% every 10 years. The population does not exhibit chlamydia at high rates (only two suspected cases in 12 years), birth rates are around 10-15% per year (we record 4 to 6 joeys per year in our research population of +/-38 individuals) and death rates about 7%. Home ranges are large, (males: 40 to 110 hectares; females 20 to 30 ha) which is not surprising for a dry woodland environment.

Read more about our Wild Koala Research Project here.

LINKS and REFERENCES:

Ellis W, FitzGibbon S, Pye G, Whipple B, Barth B, Johnston S, et al. (2015) The Role of Bioacoustic Signals in Koala Sexual Selection: Insights from Seasonal Patterns of Associations Revealed with GPS-Proximity Units. PLoS ONE 10(7): e0130657. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0130657 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0130657

BBC Earth article: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150711-shouty-koalas-dont-want-to-fight