Protecting Escarpment koalas – let’s save our koalas

Despite esteemed leaders posing with koalas at the G20 for publicity, as a nation we still take for granted one of Australia’s great animal icons (one which is widely recognised overseas).

Koala numbers are quickly declining due to loss of habitat and an increase in encroaching human activities.

Let’s stop taking koalas for granted and realise we need to protect those remaining from harm. We need to halt their decline and work hard to grow their numbers.

About the koalaKoala In Tree

The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is an Australian marsupial. It’s the only surviving animal from the Phascolarctidae family.

Its closest relative is the wombat. Bet you didn’t expect this.

Both the koala and the wombat have pouches that face backwards. This is okay for the ground-dwelling wombat, but koalas need pretty strong pouch muscles to ensure the safety of their young ones, which are called “cubs”.

Breeding for the koala

In Queensland, koalas breed from August to January. Young are generally born in summer, but some can also be born in autumn.

Adult males use an interesting bellowing / grunting noise to attract their mates (and tell other males to get lost).

Safety and protection during this breeding season is vital. Any high-level human activity during this time can greatly affect koala breeding cycles.

Size of the koalaKoala Legout

Koalas come in a range sizes. Adult males can be between 4kg to 14kg and females can be between 4kg to 10kg.

Why the amazing size variation? Northern koalas – those from northern NSW through to northern Queensland are much smaller than their southern counterparts.

Where koalas live

Koalas generally live most of their lives in trees (they’re arboreal animals) and use the ground to move from tree to tree (which is when they’re most vulnerable).

Koalas are mainly found along the eastern seaboard of Australia from Queensland to Victoria and including South Australia.

They live in eucalypt sclerophyll forests and woodland areas. Their range depends on the size of their habitat and the quality and suitability of the food contained within that habitat.

Their habitat can range from 2 hectares to several hundred hectares. Not surprisingly, koala numbers differ depending on the size of the forest supporting them.

What koalas eatKoala With Tamborine Mountain Gorge Backdrop

Koalas generally live in open woodlands comprising eucalypts.

Their diet is based mostly on the leaves from a number of Australian eucalypts. Their limited and very focused diet means koalas don’t get a lot of nutritional or caloric content from their food, a reason for their extremely snoozy habits – they sleep for up to 20 hours per day (so don’t expect a lot of conversation).

Here are the names of some of the trees from which koalas eat leaves:

1. Blue Gum (Forest Red Gum) Eucalyptus tereticornis
2. Tallowwood microcorys
3. Grey Gum propinqua, E. punctata and E. major
4. River Red Gum camuldulensis
5. Swamp mahogany robusta
6. Flooded gum grandis.

Threats to the koala’s existence

Koalas appear on the Australian Government’s EPBC Act* as vulnerable and Queensland’s NCA** as regionally vulnerable.

Koala numbers have dropped by some 43 per cent in Queensland, with South East Queensland koala numbers falling from 25,000 to between 4,000 and 2,000 in 10 years.

This is due to the massive reduction of their already limited habitat along the east coast of Australia .

Around 80 per cent of the eucalypt forests koalas rely on for their food have been affected.

The remaining 20 per cent of forest left is not protected and a large portion of it is in private hands, meaning anything can happen to much of the remaining habitat. This further threatens the existence of the koala.

Reasons for the decline in koala numbers:

1. loss of habitat
2. increased disturbance by humans
3. injury or death from traffic
4. injury or death from dogs and cats
5. effects of garden pesticides getting into waterways
6. increased competition for food and territory because of overcrowding
7. increased stress on animals, making them more susceptible to disease
8. bushfire, which can completely wipe out fragmented forest pockets
9. forest dieback from land degradation, soil nutrient leaching, erosion and exposure to weather.

List from the Koala Foundation: Threats to the koala

Koala numbers in the Tamborine Mountain Escarpment Protection Precinct rely heavily on the preservation of the remaining eucalypt forest. Koala numbers are at risk if clearance of key koala habitat occurs.

2014 Koala Count ReportKoala In Tree

In November of 2014, the National Parks Association of NSW held the national Great Koala Count to document koala sightings throughout Australia.

Some 308 citizen scientists participated in the count, recording more than 1,000 koala sightings. This was a 54 per cent increase from the 2013 number of koala sightings recorded.

The Scenic Rim citizen scientists (some of whom were on Tamborine Mountain) took on the challenge of counting koalas in the region. There were 12 citizen scientists in the Scenic Rim – more than any other local government region in Queensland barring the Gold Coast (who had 66 citizen scientists).

The koala count for the Scenic Rim reached 26 (low compared with the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, which reached 218 and 61 koalas respectively) and on par with Moreton Bay and Logan.

Author of the 2014 Koala Count Report: Dr Grainne Cleary, Wildlife Ecologist.

Great resources on the koala

Qld Department of Environment and Heritage Protection: Koala maps

The Koala: All about koalas

Australian Koala Foundation: Save the koala

Australia Zoo: Mammals: Koalas

NSW Environment & Heritage: Koala

Consider …

Australian Koala Foundation: Enlisting in the koala army

*EPBC Act: Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

**Queensland’s NCA: Nature Conservation Act 1992

Red-necked Wallabies of the Escarpment

There was a time when residents of the Tamborine Mountain Escarpment Protection Precinct barely saw a Red-necked Wallaby. It wasn’t because we weren’t looking, it was simply because they never came.

Why? Because the wallabies didn’t have the habitat to support them beyond the borders of Guanaba’s 500 acres.

After residents moved to the Escarpment Protection Precinct, they began reforesting old farmland and tree-felled areas.

This provided more protection and corridor opportunity for Red-necked Wallabies and gave them increased confidence to use newly created corridors as part of their backdrop for foraging, socialising, breeding and feeding their young.

While Red-necked Wallabies do not appear on any at-risk species list, they are still an important part of Tamborine Mountain’s wildlife tapestry.

They rely heavily on the vegetation in the Escarpment Protection Precinct; vegetation that must be retained for these wallabies and other species reliant on this vital area of the Mountain.

So what is a Red-necked Wallaby?Red Necked Wallaby Family

The beautiful Red-necked Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus) is a redhead.

They have white cheeks, from their nose to their eyes and a very distinctive red colouring on the backs of their heads, necks and shoulders.

They have very white chests and greyish fur on the rest of their bodies, speckled throughout with hints of red.

Protected by law in all states, they are found in many parts of eastern Australia – from Queensland right down to Victoria. They are also found in South Australia and Tasmania.

Size of Red-necked Wallabies

There is an amazing variety of shapes and sizes of wallabies and kangaroos in Australia.

The Red-necked Wallaby is a mid-sized macropod (from the family Macropodidae (big feet), which includes kangaroos, tree-kangaroos, pademelons, quokkas and more).

Females can weight from between 11kg and 15kg and grow to around 84cm.

Males can weight from between 15kg to 26kg and grow to around 88cm.

Some males can be much larger than the females and can be further distinguished by their muscle mass.

Where to find Red-necked WallabiesRed Necked Wallaby Juvenile

The habitat for Red-necked Wallabies varies, from dry open forests with protective undergrowth, to grasslands and paddocks; however, they only venture into open areas to forage and return to the protection of the forest during the day and throughout the night.

They love the protection of low-growing shrubs, such as the Grevillea – Red Silky Oak (G. banksii forsteri), which is endemic to South East Queensland, including Tamborine Mountain.

Behaviour of the Red-necked Wallaby

Red-necked Wallabies are crepuscular, which means they appear primarily at dawn and dusk (early mornings and late evenings) to feed.

They like to eat herbs and young shoots and leaves of heathland plants.

They use the dense forest during the day for protection and appear at the edges at the beginning and the end of the day to feed, sometimes in groups (although, they are mainly solitary animals).

Red-necked Wallabies are timid animals who quickly scatter when disturbed, which is why they enjoy the protection of dense forest unaffected by human interference.

Mums tend to “hide” their young in dense vegetation before going out to forage. They then return to their young to suckle. This makes them one of the “hider” species of macropods, which means protective vegetation is essential for their health and stability.

Habitat and a safe environment must be maintained for the Red-necked Wallabies of the Tamborine Mountain Escarpment Protection Precinct. Animals don’t need to be on an at-risk list to make them precious.

For more pictures of Red-necked Wallabies, see the Save Guanaba Facebook page.

Find out more from these great websites

Australia Zoo: Mammals – Red-necked Wallaby

Queensland Museum: Red-necked Wallaby

Australian Native Plants Society: Grevillea banksii

Wildlife Mountain: Red-Necked Wallaby (a website on a group who rehabilitate animals after they are injured or orphaned).