Community members help survey koalas in the Blue Mountains
Koalas are often found in coastal forests on fertile soils. But research by Science for Wildlife has found koalas living on sandy soils and escarpments in the Blue Mountains. At these high altitudes, koalas are often found covered in snow!
It can be so hard to spot koalas high in the forests of the Blue Mountains. Surveys for koala scats or poos are the most reliable way to monitor colonies across different habitats. Scats found on the ground indicate the presence of koalas, as well as information about their gender, diet, age, potential disease and breeding cycles.
Since 2014, citizen sightings of koalas have informed Science for Wildlife’s surveys and research. In 2017, community volunteers helped with scat surveys, gathering important knowledge about the local koala populations.
Early results demonstrated that koalas are found across a wide range of habitat types in the Blue Mountains.
It was also shown that with a wide distribution of population and increased development koalas are facing greater risk from humans and that reducing hazards near human habitation is vital.
A second scat survey in 2018 aimed to expand on the earlier data and add detail to koala distribution mapping for the region.
Community members and visiting bushwalkers volunteered in 70 new scat surveys over four National Parks. Some survey areas involved day-long treks into remote areas, including capture and examination of koalas to check for disease and general health.
The results were encouraging, showing that koalas in this region are some of the most genetically diverse in Australia. Results of scat sampling also revealed that local koala colonies were either free of disease or have very low levels of chlamydia.
The Blue Mountains Koala Project has gathered valuable information from wildlife rescue organisations and vets on locations of injured koalas, the nature of their injuries, disease status and possible causes of death. This information will be a vital part of planning for the conservation of Blue Mountains koalas, helping to address key hotspots for threats such as vehicle strike and dog attack.
A wonderful outcome of these two projects is a solid base of enthusiastic volunteers ready to participate in more koala-seeking activities. Koala spotters can also report sightings online, adding to the pool of valuable data.
Science for Wildlife leads the Blue Mountains Koala Project with funding support through the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program. The project is building our knowledge about koalas, their habitat and the threats they face in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
Science for Wildlife is a not-for-profit wildlife conservation organisation based out of Sydney, Australia.
Since the summer fires tore through koala habitat throughout the Blue Mountains, Science for Wildlife has been searching for and rescuing injured koalas and installing water stations for remaining wildlife. There were more than 140 volunteers hard at work until COVID-19 slowed down their plans.
Cameras are also being installed in fire-affected areas, giving a clearer idea of what has survived. Information on remnant populations will help with plans for population recovery.
The first maps of koala habitats around SE Wollemi National Park have now been produced, identifying where koalas may be at risk from nearby developed areas. Work is underway for mapping around Kanangra-Boyd National Park.
In a bit of good news, there were 12 koalas located and captured before their habitat was burnt. All 12 have now been safely returned to the wild.
In a project through Australian Ecosystems Foundation, volunteers are currently planting around 5000 saplings to eventually replace trees lost in the summer bushfire.
There is always room for more volunteers in the Blue Mountains to work with Science for Wildlife on future koala projects.