Blue Mountains News
The Race Is On To Count Koalas
The status of koalas in the Blue Mountains is currently unknown. Dr Kellie Leigh from Science for Wildlife has initiated a collaborative koala research project to find out more about our furry Aussie icon. Koalas are listed as a threatened species under the federal EPBC Act but we don’t know how many still live in the World Heritage Area or which habitats they are using, which as Leigh says is “a bit embarrassing.”
Koalas used to be abundant in the region, with historic records of koala hunting around the Megalong Valley. Fortunately the koala fur trade days are over, but together with ongoing destruction of koala habitats for development, they have left a legacy of small and declining koala populations across most states in Australia.
You can help by reporting any koalas that you see. November is the month of the Australia-wide Great Koala Count, and the National Parks Association is encouraging people to go out and look for koalas between the 7th and 17th of November. You can download the “biotagg” app from their website onto your smart phone to automatically record the location and details of any koalas that you spot.
“But please don’t stop there” Leigh says. “keep looking! We are undertaking an intensive local research project for the Blue Mountains, to map the remaining koalas. If you see koalas during the rest of the year outside of the Great Koala Count dates please report them to us. We have an online mapping portal, or you can just drop us an email and we’ll get straight back to you”. The Blue Mountains project covers the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains down to Richmond, and west out to Bathurst and Mudgee.
Jennifer Tobey, from San Diego Zoo Global which is supporting the project, says “as the weather warms up koala activity increases, with koalas on the move to find mates, and males letting out bizarre guttural bellows to attract the girls.”
Science for Wildlife is collaborating with researchers at the University of Western Sydney, Dr Ben Moore and student Scott Bevins, to learn more about koala nutrition. The World Heritage area is huge and has a lot of poor quality sandy soils, which reduces the quality of the leaves the koalas browse so they are likely to be scattered in low density over a large area.
Since the koalas are difficult to find, Leigh is training up koala detection dogs to help. “Once we find the koalas and map them, then we can undertake more ecological studies to find out where they move and what they eat” The information will be shared with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Rural Fire Service, to inform species management plans and control burning regimes.
Previous research has shown that koalas in the Blue Mountains might be important for species conservation, as they have genetic diversity or “fitness” equivalent to any other koala population in Australia. The Blue Mountains research will feed genetic diversity information into a national-scale project, led by the University of Sydney, which is using whole-genome DNA to assign management units to koalas across the species range.
To report a koala sighting see: www.scienceforwildlife.org
To join the Great Koala Count in November see: http://koalacount.ala.org.au/bdrs-core/npansw/home.htm
Dr Kellie Leigh
Executive Director, Science for Wildlife
Honorary Research Fellow, University of Sydney
Mob: 0430 476 562
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