James Fitzgerald

James Fitzgerald

Koala conservationist

James Fitzgerald is the trustee of Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust, a trio of koala sanctuaries and a rehabilitation centre 2 hours south of Canberra in NSW’s sub-alpine region. James started Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust to ensure that the sanctuaries remain safe for wildlife, provide enclosures and other facilities for wildlife rehabilitation, and as a base for scientific research.

I think I was born with the nature-loving gene.

One of my earliest memories as a child growing up in Canberra was going for a walk with my Dad around Mt Ainslie to spot kangaroos.

While I worked for the government in IT for approximately 30 years, my passion has always been in wildlife conservation. I started rescuing wildlife from a young age and was particularly interested in reptiles. In 1989 I found the fifth species of dragon lizard in the ACT, the Nobby Dragon, which extended their range by 300 kilometres.

The best way to protect koalas is to protect their habitat. I now own and manage three sanctuaries that will be protected forever: Hammer’s Hill Wildlife Sanctuary (780 acres), Kalandan Wildlife Sanctuary (890 acres) and Irwin’s Corner Wildlife Sanctuary (140 acres). The sanctuaries are home to koalas and other species of vulnerable wildlife like the squirrel glider and Rosenberg’s goanna, while we also may have greater gliders and spotted-tail quolls.

I think we need to do more research into and explain the benefits of biodiversity and how much we have already lost. It is estimated that there were over 10 million koalas before they were hunted for their fur in the early 1900s. A koala eats between 500 grams and 1 kilogram of eucalyptus leaf every day and a population of 10 million koalas would have eaten more than a million tonnes of eucalyptus every year. Eucalyptus leaf is the most flammable part of the Australian bush and without millions of koalas eating tonnes of eucalyptus leaves, bushfires could burn hotter and travel further causing much more damage. I think this would be an important subject for future research.

We’ve also learnt that the sanctuary is home to one of Australia’s most unique populations of koalas. A research team from the Australian National University found that the koalas in my area weren’t getting the nutrition they need from the local leaves, so they were also eating bark from eucalyptus mannifera trees to access sodium.

Koalas are amazing animals. How many people also know that koalas have two thumbs or that they are the only animal in the world other than humans and some primates that have evolved unique fingerprints?

Bushfires are the biggest threats to koalas here. Getting hit by cars is also an issue, so I recently worked with the Snowy Monaro Regional Council to have 20 koala signs installed on local roads. My goal is to keep growing the sanctuary so future generations can enjoy wild habitat and koalas. It’s prime koala country.

I think we need to do more research into and explain the benefits of biodiversity and how much we have already lost. It is estimated that there were over ten million koalas before they were hunted for their fur in the early 1900s.

“Koalas are one of the only animals that have evolved unique fingerprints."

A koala eats between 500 grams and 1 kilogram of eucalyptus leaves every day.

More NSW Koala Country stories

Skip to content