Blue Mountains Koalas Project – Updates
28 Feb 2020
Our Koala Project is currently being adapted to reflect new and urgent information gaps after the bushfires to inform resetting of priorities for koala conservation. Four of our five koala study sites in the Blue Mountains region were impacted by fire. Around 80% of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area had fire run through it.
We have survey data and koala habitat maps for two sites from before the bushfires, and we are aiming to do post-fire surveys as soon as access is safe. Then we can assess the impact of the fires at these sites. Across all of our identified sites, we need to know what koala habitats we have left and where koalas survived. We are starting surveys to work out if koalas are only in the unburnt patches of bush, or if they are surviving in low intensity burnt areas or in other potential refuges from fire. From there we can start to predict where else we might have other survivors and start planning for koala population recovery. We’ll being using our awesome koala scat detection dog team for the survey work, as well as human koala spotters.
The koalas we rescued from Kanangra-Boyd National Park ahead of the approaching Green Wattle fire are all well and healthy at the zoo and we’re preparing to release them back into the wild in March. Our research team, with the help of volunteers, is currently undertaking surveys to establish whether we can put the koalas back where we caught them, where a low intensity fire went through, or a little to the north in an unburnt patch.
19 Dec 2019
During FY2019 our Koala Project continued to grow. Ecological research activities were extended at Site 2 which includes Kanangra-Boyd National Park to the Megalong Valley. Government support was increased with S4W receiving 3-year funding under the NSW Koala Strategy/Koala Research Plan to expand work to new sites and to characterise climate refugia for koalas. Funding under the NSW Government Saving our Species program was also received to continue scat surveys in Fy19. We produced the first draft map of koala habitats in this region in June 2019, with more surveys completed in November to finalise the map.
Our core partners San Diego Zoo Global continued to support our ecological studies where we catch and radio-track koalas to better understand their habitat use, survival and breeding rates and the threats they face. Indications so far are of a young and growing koala population, centred inside the National Parks but with dispersing animals and koala scats being recorded for the first time in 70 to 80yrs in nearby developed areas. These koalas break all the rules and occupy poor quality soils at over 1100m, so we get to track them in snow in winter!
Community engagement for this study site was focused on bushwalking groups to recruit volunteers to help with remote area surveys, and landholders to increase awareness of koalas in the area, reduce threats to koalas, and seek access to survey on private properties. Many landholders were interested in learning from our research results around what is needed to restore koala habitats and improve conservation outcomes. We hope this will translate into habitat restoration as we learn more about which tree species are most important to koalas in this region.
A big thanks to the volunteers who were part of our intrepid koala scat survey teams, and the local community who provided access to properties to help us map koalas that use developed areas.