KOALA lovers from around the region were given first hand advice in koala care from some of the state’s best animal experts at a field day event in Curlewis.
Tamworth Regional Landcare Association hosted the koala habitat field day and included several guest speakers and demonstrations on all things koala care.
Local Landcare co-ordinator Lana Andrews told The Namoi Valley Independent she was very pleased with the strong turn out to the event.
“Today was all about helping local landholders learn how to care for kolas,” Ms Andrews said. “From Landcare’s perspective we are very pleased to see such a strong turn out. “To see 35 people attend this meeting is terrific and we are very happy with the turnout.”
The event boasted several high expert guest speakers including University of Sydney’s Dr Valentina Mella and Tamworth ecologist Phil Spark.
“All of the researchers here are giving us very important information about the data they have about koalas in the Gunnedah area,” Ms Andrews said.
“As well as that we have headed out into the field to give them a feel of what good koala habitat looks like and what they can do to help create good habitat.”
The event followed the state government’s announcement of a koala strategy, a strategy which has Tamworth ecologist Phil Spark concerned.
“It seems to me that the North West, the inland side of the range has not been significantly addressed in the strategy,” Mr Spark said.
“I have concerns that most of the emphasis is targeted towards the coastal regions and the issues that are affecting koalas on this side of the range are still not really being addressed.”
Mr Spark said climate change was a large factor in the decreasing numbers of the koala population.
“Apart from habitat clearing which is a big factor, the other major factor in the decrease in population is climate change,” he said.
“I’d say we are at a bit of a loss to best deal with the issue but I suppose the best answer we have at the moment is to give koalas as much quality habitat as possible.
“To be resilient you need to have large populations and to have large populations you need to conserve large areas of habitat and I personally don’t think those issues are being addressed.”
Guest speaker Dr Valentina Mella from the University of Sydney spoke about her world-leading research into the drinking habits of koalas, which is being conducted in Gunnedah.
Dr Mella said about 200 Gunnedah koalas now had microchips so it was possible to track which koalas visited special drinkers installed as part of the project, how often they visited and how long they stayed, information that would assist in helping to keep the local population healthy.
“We are still seeing a decline in numbers,” she said.
“It looks like the disease incidence is 69-70 per cent, which is really bad. That is a really high incidence. We have only counted about 10 young koalas in three years.”
Dr Mella said chlamydia was taking its toll on the Gunnedah koala population and, together with the threat posed by land clearing and drought, local koalas could be in serious trouble.
“It’s a big worry,” she said. “We have a responsibility to do as much as we can to mitigate the threats.
“If we can plant trees, we need to plant trees. If we can protect habitat, let’s do it. If we can provide water to help keep koalas healthy, then we need to do that.”
Dr Mella said the study would look at whether koalas who used the drinking stations were in a healthier condition than those who did not, and this would help decide if and how water should be provided for koalas in the future, particularly in times of drought.
She said she was looking to continue the study past December this year with crowdfunding. To find out more, visit https://crowdfunding.sydney.edu.au/project/8132/wall