By Michelle Daly (Koala Action Gympie Region)

Published by The Local Gympie & Surrounds News, 01/09/2021

We are indeed lucky in our region to be custodians of this most unique and iconic species, the koala. It is such an important part of Australia’s natural and cultural heritage, and for some reason, no matter how often one spots a koala, it is always a special and exciting experience. 

Our region is home to koalas because it contains suitable habitats for them, and this occurs right down the east coast of Australia across to South Australia. But their populations are very fragmented, and at-risk due to lots of factors, the main one being a loss of habitat. Since European settlement, it has been estimated approximately 80% of koala habitat was removed, and many readers will know that in the old days, millions of koalas were shot for their pelts, for the lucrative fur trade. Due to public outrage that they were becoming extinct, it was outlawed in the 1930’s and the koala became a ‘protected species.’  

Koala populations in Qld have been in significant decline again in recent decades, which is why the koala is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on threatened species lists, and why koalas need our help. So, how are our Gympie region koala populations faring? Without research, it is hard to say for sure, but we do know that in some districts, they seem to have disappeared or are not doing well, and in some areas, we are hopeful the population may be holding or even recovering. There are lots of factors at play but seeing koalas with joeys is always encouraging, as it means breeding is happening and another generation is on the way! 

The key ingredient for koalas is of course habitat. Recently, a resident said she was surprised to learn there were so many species of eucalypts in Australia (about 600!) and that koalas ate only a select number of these. That is right, they are very fussy eaters, and koalas must have access to some of their ‘primary’ food trees species, as well as other trees for supplementary food and shelter. Some of the favourite food trees in our region include Queensland blue gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis), Tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys), Grey gum (Eucalyptus propinqua) and Gum-topped box (Eucalyptus molucanna).

Koala Fast Facts 

  • Koalas are marsupials. At birth, the joey is a tiny 2 cm. and develops inside the pouch, drinking mum’s milk. After 6-7 months, the joey starts to leave the pouch, and rides on mum’s back, and learns from mum what gum leaves to eat, and how to climb safely. From around 12 months old, it is starting to become independent.   
  • On average koalas live for 10-12 years in the wild. 
  • Koalas get most of the water they need from gum leaves and dew and will lick the wet bark when it rains. Koalas may search out water sources on the ground in hot, dry weather. 
  • Koalas rest and sleep for 18-20 hours a day, due to their low-energy diet.
  • Koalas are mostly active from late afternoon, through the night, and early morning, feeding and moving along the ground to other trees, and sometimes socialising. 
  • “How big is a koala’s home range”? One source suggests approximately 10-12 hectares for males and 5-6 for females in South-East Queensland, but it can be much bigger in areas of lesser quality habitat.  

This brings us to breeding season, happening now. Do listen out at night for their unique mating noises or google ‘koala sounds.’ From July to December, koalas are so much more active, and so more at risk from a dog attack and vehicle strike. 

We can help by ensuring our dogs are inside or otherwise restrained at night, and If driving at koala ‘peak-hour (between dusk and early morning) slow down and be alert to koala movement. If you hit a koala, please stop to check it and call rescue services, even if it is dead, as important checks need to be made. Be prepared with our helpful Koala Glovebox Guide in your car.  

Our local koala conservation group was formed five years ago with the aim of engaging our community in helping to preserve our region’s koalas in the future. Our website www.kagr.org.au and the Koalas of Gympie Region brochure have more tips on what we can do to help.  

We especially encourage residents to report koala sightings. Why? Data on our koala populations will help to monitor them over time and can help to focus conservation or advocacy efforts e.g. where road mitigation measures may be needed. To learn about Wildwatch and to report a sighting, go to Gympie Council’s WILDWATCH application at www.gympie.qld.gov.au/wildwatch.  

As most koalas live on private land, we truly can make a difference, but it also needs other stakeholders, and governments at all levels to assist in preserving this iconic species. As our region grows, we more than ever need sensitive, smart, and sustainable development that preserves our natural environment and the unique wildlife with which we share this country. 

For wildlife rescue phone AARRA Gympie on 5484 9111.