Category Archives: Trees for koalas

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.


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.


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 will run another Koalas & Tree Planting Event: contact us if you want to be invited.

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.


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

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.

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 Koala Clancy Foundation hosted a public meeting to talk about wild koalas on farms and private land.

The meeting was 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.

When:   7.30pm Thursday 15 November 2018

Where:   Little River Mechanics Hall, Little River VICTORIA.

Cost:   Free

The presentation is now available online here:
Contact: Community Engagement Co-ordinator

volunteer tree planting near Melbourne


Links to event & references:

nine ways to help koalas

Nine ways you can help koalas!

9 ways to help koalas

1. If you live around Melbourne, register for Koala Conservation Day for Locals. Meet the famous wild koalas of the You Yangs (including me!), then help us and learn about our lives!  Cost is only $30, all of which goes to saving koalas. Book here.

If you don’t live near Melbourne, you can sponsor the day, or some trees for others to plant: Sponsor the day or a tree (click through as if you’re buying a ticket and the option will come up)

spend a day helping koalas

2. Remove a weed! Go out this weekend to your local bushland park, find a weed and pull it out! All over the world, invasive species compromise the health of the forest. Koalas need a healthy ecosystem. Even if you don’t have koalas in your part of the world, you will be helping us by helping other species, which are all linked to us!  While you’re there, remove some rubbish too!

3. Plant a native tree! Even in the suburbs, trees are important for insects and birds. Without insects, nothing can live. If you don’t have land yourself, ask a farmer or friend. Read an expert list of native trees in the You Yangs region here.

4. Protect a forest.  Support Great Koala National Park, NSW Australia; Great Forest National Park, VIC Australia, Friends of Warner/Eatons Hill Mambo-Wanda Wetlands Group, NSW Australia and many others.

save koalas

5. Join a tree planting organisation like California ReLeaf;  Plant a Billion USA; Tree Project Australia; Greening Australia; Conservation Volunteers Australia

6. Go to a local beach with a garbage bag and collect some discarded plastic! Human rubbish is clogging our waterways and oceans, and the ocean gives us all life. Concentrate on plastic rubbish, and string, fishing line, balloon strings – anything that can trap birds or sea mammals.

help koalas

7. Donate to a rewilding or conserving organisation: Sempervirens Fund USA  Rewilding Europe; Wilderness Foundation UK; Nature Conservancy USA; Trust for Nature Australia; Bush Heritage Australia

8. Change one thing in your life for the day. If you normally get a takeaway coffee, take or buy a re-usable cup. If you normally get lunch wrapped in plastic, ask for it in a paper bag or take your own container. If you’re doing any printing, buy a ream of recycled paper. If you are going shopping, buy one less thing – humans have too much stuff and wildlife is paying for it.

9. Call a politician today.  Your local representative is best, but you can also call state and federal ministers and senators.  Tell them that koalas are important to you (or if you’re overseas, replace koala with a native animal)  Politicians make laws for/against our wildlife but often they don’t know what real people want.  Tell them – even as few as 10 phone calls on a subject can change a politicians vote. Read more about calling politicians here.

If you have any other ideas, let us know!  Are you part of a great organisation that is helping wildlife and nature?  Please contact us and we will include you!

Watch out for Wild Koala Day May 3, 2018  Start preparing now!

Trees for koalas around the You Yangs, Little River and Lara Victoria

Much confusion exists about what trees to plant to help koalas.  So what are the right trees to plant for koalas in your area?  That depends on where you are.  Every region of Australia has it’s own native/indigenous suite of plants, and they are the right plants to cultivate.  Are they koala trees?  Will they ‘attract’ koalas?  Maybe…it all depends.

wild koala Clancy up a gum tree

If you are planting around the You Yangs Ranges, Little River or Lara we can offer the following suggestions.

In the granite belt – foothills of the You Yangs, all the way along Granite Road.

(Zone 15 on Indigenous Plants of Geelong Region)

  • River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) is the native large eucalypt of the lower slopes, creeks and river banks.  This is a magnificent tree that koalas adore.  In our You Yangs research area it is their number 1 favourite tree.
  • Gippsland Blue Gum (E. pseudoglobulus) is the main smooth-barked eucalypt of the upper slopes of the You Yangs.  It is favoured by koalas.  There is also another species of Blue Gum planted in the You Yangs that koalas also eat, but its best to stick with the naturally-occurring E. pseudoglobulus.
  • Yellow Gum (E leucoxylon) is the tall Y-shaped forest tree of the lower slopes of the You Yangs.  Koalas eat this too – it is their third favourite in our research area.
  • Red Box (E polyanthemos) is the brown-barked tree with rounded leaves that koalas love to shelter in on hot days. It grows on the hot, dry slopes.
  • Red Ironbark (E tricarpa) is the black-barked tree with lovely bluish leaves that sometimes has pink flowers.  Like Red Box, koalas prefer this tree on hot days.  It also grows on the hot, dry slopes.
Koala Clancy in a Red Ironbark tree
Clancy in a Red Ironbark
  • Manna Gum (E viminalis) grows in some parts of the You Yangs, particularly the north-east around the mountain bike area.  Widely believed to be koala’s favourite tree, in the You Yangs we have not found this to be the case.  They do eat it.

Around the You Yangs, south to Lara, along Hovells Creek and east of Staughton Vale along the Little River:

(Zone 14 on the Indigenous Plants of Geelong Region)

  • River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) along creeks and river banks.  This is a magnificent tree that koalas adore.  In our You Yangs research area it is their number 1 favourite tree.
  • Yellow Gum (E leucoxylon) is the tall Y-shaped forest tree of the lower slopes of the You Yangs.  Koalas eat this too – it is their third favourite in our research area.
  • Grey Box and Yellow Box (E.microcarpa and E. melliodora) are both box-barked trees of the drier areas in the plains north of the You Yangs. The are beautiful trees.  Koalas eat both species.

The Werribee Plains and Little River town area:

(Zone 16 on the Indigenous Plants of Geelong Region)

Naturally this area was mostly grassland, with lines of trees along rivers, creeks, billabongs and watercourses.  Even though there weren’t many trees, these riverside corridors are extremely important for koalas – they probably use these to move from forest to forest safely, and trees around waterholes are important refuges on hot days.

  • River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) along creeks and river banks.  This is a magnificent tree that koalas adore.  In our You Yangs research area it is their number 1 favourite tree.
  • Grey Box (E.microcarpa) is a beautiful box-barked tree of the drier watercourses.  Koalas eat them.

Introduced Gum Trees:

Throughout the region many other eucalyptus trees are planted.  Any large tree is potentially important for koalas – they prefer to be up high, and are safe there.  Don’t remove it unless you are planning to replace it with an indigenous tree.  I have personally witness koalas eating the following, but rarely:

  • Sugar Gum (E cladocalyx)
  • Swamp Yate (E occidentalis)
  • Brown Mallett (E astringens)
  • Lemon-scented Gum (Corymbia citriodora)
  • Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata)

Koalas roost (sit in) the following trees:

  • Cherry Ballart (Exocarpos cupressiformis) – this native tree is very important to koalas on hot days, and possibly protects them from bushfire.  If you are lucky enough to have these on your property, keep them!!
  • All types of large wattle (Acacia implexa, mearnsii, pycnantha) and She-oaks (Allocasuarina verticillata, luehmannii) and Paperbarks (Melaleuca lanceolata)
  • Introduced Radiata Pine
  • Hakeas and Banksias
wild koala Clancy in a hakea bush
Clancy in a hakea

Important point – if your property is in an area that is naturally grassland, don’t cover it with trees just to ‘make’ koalas live there.  It won’t work, and it will be the wrong thing for the ecosystem.  Native grasslands are critically endangered ecosystems, and should be protected and recreated.  The best thing for koalas is a healthy ecosystem.  So improve your native grassland, enjoy the species that live there, and watch out for koalas along the nearest waterway!