Meet Our Growing Team
Our work is scaling up – meet our growing team, and read about your chance to join in.
We’ve dubbed the start of this year the apocalyptic summer. The four horsemen that rode on through were in the form of drought, fires, floods and then pestilence which arrived as Covid-19. It hasn’t been a favourite year for most people. However, out of the flames Science for Wildlife has emerged, a bit like Fawkes the phoenix out of Harry Potter, taking on new life to meet the post-apocalyptic challenges.
We’re adapting and changing our wildlife research and conservation priorities in the burnt landscape of the Blue Mountains, to make sure we put our resources where they will make the most difference. Prior to the fires, we were slowly working our way across five koala study sites, one at a time, spending 2 or 3 years at each site and carrying out habitat mapping, detailed ecological studies and working with communities and land managers to reduce the threats to koalas. That approach has changed as we aim to blitz through all of our study sites in the coming months, to find where koalas have survived the fires and figure out the best way to ensure koala population recovery.
The 5 sites in the map below give an idea of our main areas of focus. These might change as our survey results come in.
In order to meet this new challenge we needed to scale up in a hurry and with the help of our amazing partners and supporters, we have. Our team has grown and we’re excited to introduce two new Science for Wildlife team members.
Victoria is S4W’s new Research Scientist and will be leading the post-bushfire koala surveys.She will work with S4W ecologists, volunteers, and detection dogs to conduct scat surveys, determining if koalas are still present across the burnt areas. In the field, Victoria will identify koala scats (and those from other animals) and confirm if mapped vegetation types and burn intensities are correct. Science for Wildlife will use these data to determine where koalas have survived, and if certain areas act as refuges for koalas during and after bushfires.
Victoria has a background in monitoring threatened species (including those that are traditionally difficult to survey), and recently completed her PhD on hippopotamus in Botswana. She also has a background in spatial mapping and forest management through working with the WA state government, which will come in handy when planning the surveys and working with stakeholders.
Community Engagement Officer Annabel Murray will be working with us to engage local communities. Her work will focus on areas where people are living in close proximity to remaining koalas. Following the catastrophic 2019-20 fires, there is koala habitat remaining in and around residential housing and development since many of those areas were protected from the fires.
Developed areas also often contain good soils types and support Eucalypt species that koalas prefer. For koala conservation to be effective, local residents and communities will need to play a key role in ongoing monitoring and protection of the koalas in their area and throughout our five target sites. Our community science education and monitoring engagement process is taking a very quick turn-around due to the unprecedented devastation to koala populations last summer. Annabel is a keen advocate for community engagement, empowerment and long-term stewardship in monitoring and protecting Australian wildlife and habitats.
Other S4W Team Members
While the staff below are not new, they’ve started working with us since the bushfires and you might not have met them yet.
Ariane started out as a volunteer for Science for Wildlife, helping out with our koala rescue mission in front of the approaching fires in December 2019 and then taking on the daunting job of volunteer coordination for our emergency response work during the bushfires. She is a whiz at GIS mapping (which is her day job) and is now working with us to plan the upcoming surveys and incorporate fire intensity and vegetation recovery rates into our survey design. This information is gathered via remote sensing, or satellite data, and will help us to assess the condition of any habitats where koalas have survived, and predict other areas that might still support them. Ariane isn’t playing Santa in the photo, she is carrying a koala. They settle right down when they’re in a sack, or big pouch!
Ben is a qualified arborist who built on his expert tree climbing skills and trained up with us to become an “arboreal koala catcher”. We’re not quite sure how that reads on a CV but it’s an important job! Coaxing a koala out of a tree takes a range of skills, part of it is climbing and then a large part is anticipating and reading the koala’s behaviour to get them safely down to the ground capture team. Ben has been helping out at our Kanangra-Boyd study site since the start of the bushfires, catching koalas for welfare checks and helping us to add new koala recruits to our study. He also helped out during our emergency response work as a hazardous tree assessor, working in front of our field teams to ensure they were safe in the burn zone. Ben is also in koala transport mode in the photo.
Lacey is an ecologist from the USA and started with us as a volunteer, helping with radio-tracking the koalas that we released back into the wild after the fires. Lacey is continuing to work with us at our Kanangra-Boyd site and has oversight of the research data collection, equipment maintenance and coordinating our dedicated and skilled volunteers for weekly radio-tracking of koalas. Lacey will also be out in the field with Victoria on the upcoming scat surveys, becoming a professional scatologist!
Then of course we have our long-term team members. Brie Sloggett has left behind the Zen of scat counts this year to continue her work coordinating the Koala Post-rehabilitation Monitoring Project in Greater Western Sydney.
Last but not least, our Executive Director Dr Kellie launched into a frenzied work mode during and after the fires. Since completion of the emergency response work she has replanned our projects, secured more resources and is now mightily relieved and delighted to have such a fantastic team to work with. Our Science for Wildlife Board has also been very hands on during this time of urgent growth and we send them a huge thank you.
Keep an eye out for more news on our volunteers and students who are an important part of our work.
Your chance to join in!
Work of this scale requires many hands. We have around 400 scat surveys to complete, to work out where koalas have survived the fires. We’ll be using our detection dog team (scent surveys) for some sites, but for the first two areas we had already completed the scat surveys using people (visual surveys) before the fires, so we have to use the same method after the fires in order to asses changes in koala occupancy. We are inviting volunteers from local communities and beyond to assist over the coming months and into early next year. You’ll have a chance to build your knowledge and learn some scat and vegetation identification skills, while helping us with this vital conservation work.
If you’re interested in learning more and signing up please register on our website below and make sure you tick “Intrepid Remote Area Surveys” as one of your Main Interests. If you have already registered with us for remote area survey work, you’ll receive an email soon with more information including dates and meeting places.