Over the last 6 months Friends of the Earth has been involved in a project mapping population numbers of the Strzelecki Koala.
The Strzelecki Koala is the only remnant koala population remaining in Victoria and as a result it's unique genes are vital for the survival of the species, not only in Victoria, but Southern NSW as well.
In November, Anthony Amis joined a team consisting of a dozen experienced koala people from New South Wales, who visited the Strzeleckis In November and March to conduct the survey. Anthony has continued the work since March with Susie Zent, a long time activist from the region. Concerns are emerging about the deaths and injuries due to the logging of plantations and what Hancock Victorian Plantations, call in-growth inside logged areas.
Rumours suggest that up to 5 koalas were killed each week during logging operations for the best part of the last decade! The Strzelecki Koala is the only remnant koala population remaining in Victoria and as a result it's unique genes are vital for the survival of the species, not only in Victoria, but Southern NSW as well.
Over 150 sites have been assessed by the teams so far. A site is determined from 1:50,000 scale maps, where grid lines intersect. Sites can be 500 metres apart. Once a site is located on a map, its co-ordinates are entered into a hand-held GPS. The team then has to find the site, which could mean, depending on local roads and terrain, a difficult walk - particularly on steep slopes dominated by stinging nettle, blackberry and coprosma. Once the team arrives at the site, 30 trees are selected in a circle and each tree then searched for signs of koala scats. Each tree search can take between 2-5 minutes depending on the bark shed and understorey of surrounding vegetation. If a scat is found, the person yells out "BINGO" which tends to lift morale if nothing has been found for an hour or two. Details of each of the 30 trees is recorded on a sheet, including tree species, the results of which are then entered into a computer program which maps koala density and movement through the landscape. Approximately 4,500 trees have been surveyed so far, and numerous koala scats have been sent to have their DNA assessed.
The project is already finding some interesting results, with core koala locations being located in native forest between Blackwarry and Tarra Bulga and also the Middle Creek/Morwell National Park region on the northern slopes. Strzelecki koala habitat is dissected by farmland and plantations which tends to mean that the koalas are confined to small islands of native forest where traditional koala community structure dominated by an alpha male and several females does not necessarily occur. Koalas have been found 20m inside pine plantations with pine needles found in koala scats, which raises some interesting questions, including notable high risk areas in the interface between plantations and native forest. Koalas have also been found moving back into areas seriously burnt by the 2009 bushfires. At this early stage it is not possible to determine numbers, but it would be very surprising to find more than 1,000 koalas in the Strzeleckis.
The project is only funded until the end of June, although a small donation will allow Anthony to continue monitoring sites until August - depending on whether his knees hold up.
You can find our report from the project here.
You can donate to support this project here.