A koala researcher says more needs to be done to help Gunnedah’s marsupials in the drought.
Dr Valentina Mella of the University of Sydney is leading a world-first study into the use of water by koalas in the wild and said the number of times koalas accessed Blinky Drinkers (water feeders in trees) had more than doubled from March 2017 to March 2018 on two properties near Gunnedah.
“Last year, I had 385 drinking visits by koalas [and] this year, I had 982, which is more than double so that really tells that the weather is really affecting them,” Dr Mella said.
The study has been running for three years, with more than 26 Blinky Drinkers in place and more than 200 koalas tagged so their health can be routinely checked.
“We’ve been working on those properties for years… but all of a sudden we find all these new animals. They’re coming in from somewhere. It’s clear that they may be looking for water,” Dr Mella said.
“They are affected by heat waves and drought and something needs to be done.”
Dr Mella said she was "absolutely shocked” at how dry the area was in July when the team last visited.
“This year has been awful… I just didn’t expect it to be that dry in July. The trees were just awful, the leaves were so dried out,” she said.
“We are now getting to the point where we can have a better understanding of how chlamydia is going and the real effects of climate changes on koalas… It might not be enough to provide water for them but it is helping in the short-term.
“For the koalas, proving water is the first step and we’re hoping to expand it in the future. The bigger picture would be to have bigger water reservoirs, which can be kept filled up so not only the animals but the plants can access the water. We’re in the early stages but we need more funding.”
The study will soon receive a financial boost from the University of Sydney, with students choosing the project as the recipient of this year’s Pave the Way fundraising event on September 18.
Dr Mella said Pave the Way is a 24-hour event, with all public donations made before the date matched by business partners.
“They have already collected over $15,00 and the event hasn’t even started,” she said.
“It’s great that students given the chance, they chose the koalas and I’m really excited about that.”
They are affected by heat waves and drought and something needs to be done.- Dr Valentina Mella
Dr Mella said the team’s next field trip will be in January 2019.
“We’d like to come when it’s really hot because we want to see the actual effects of the heat on the koalas. We want to monitor the temperature of these animals,” she said.
“That’s a really important thing we want to do. How hot are they getting?
“Sometimes I get calls from landowners saying they’re dropping out of the trees and they must be dehydrated.
“The drinkers are good but what else can we can do? What other practical solutions can we offer?”
To donate to the University of Sydney’s koala research, visit https://pavetheway.sydney.edu.au/