Gunnedah farmer demonstrates new design for koala water drinker

Gunnedah farmer Robert Frend has revealed his latest design for Blinky Drinkers.

The new design aims to attract more koalas and improve safety and usability for those maintaining them.

In partnership with the University of Sydney’s Dr Valentina Mella, Mr Frend has been modifying the design of the water repository, which are placed in trees to give koalas easy access to water.

“We’re hoping to link koala health with the use of drinkers,” Mr Frend said.

“We don’t want to end up like the pub with no beer and have no koalas.”

Robert Frend brings the new design Blinky Drinker down for a closer look.

Over the past three years, the design has undergone many changes, starting out as half a go-kart tyre tied to a branch and moving through to a half-bowl linked to a 200-litre drum on a platform. Issues have included access for koalas, portability, frost impacting electric motors, algae and positioning the drinker in such a way that koalas microchips can be read to log the visit.

A key part of the design is a microchip reader, which identifies microchipped koalas and a video camera, which captures valuable data on how often the drinkers are used, for how long and by which animals. This information is then used by Dr Mella and her team in their research project, which has been running for three years.

Robert Frend with an older Blinky Drinker design in 2016. Photo: Marie Low

Robert Frend with an older Blinky Drinker design in 2016. Photo: Marie Low

More than 200 koalas have been tagged over the time period and more than 26 drinkers have been installed on two properties near Gunnedah, including Mr Frend’s land. Between March 2017 and March 2018, koalas accessed the drinkers 982 times, more than double the figure from the previous 12 months. 

“Val and I, we had this conviction to give koalas water,” Mr Frend said.

“It’s mine and Valentina’s conviction that water supplementation is the way to go.

“The concept of the drinkers is potentially huge.”

Mr Frend said he had been working on a new design for the drinker to attract koalas and improve safety and usability for those checking the bowl and changing batteries and SD cards in the cameras. He shared his ideas and gave a demonstration to fellow landholders, Gunnedah Urban Landcare, North West Local Land Services, Project Koala and David Walker from the Office of Environment and Heritage on Thursday.

A portion of the koala mural designed and painted by the Arts Shed members. The mural is on Little Conadilly Street.

A portion of the koala mural designed and painted by the Arts Shed members. The mural is on Little Conadilly Street.

The design is a metal framework with an electric motor in the base, which runs the pump to keep the half-bowl full of water. A hose runs from the bowl down the length of the frame and under the ground, connecting to a tank a few metres away. A camera and microchip reader are positioned over the half-bowl.

“It’s a big buzz to have a camera and see koalas using the drinkers on your property,” Mr Frend said.

The farmer recently installed four of the new design on his property, with two already being used by koalas.

“I have no doubts in my mind that they work,” Mr Frend said on the day.

“I commend this [design] to you.

“It meets [requirements for] safety, access for koalas, longevity and ease of operation.”

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The farmer said a 220-litre drum lasts about a month but with numerous other creatures utilising the drinkers, including sugar gliders, brush-tailed possums, bees, and birds, he would like to increase capacity. He would like to swap out the existing drums for 1000-litre drums to reduce maintenance time and ensure they don’t run dry.

“There should be enough water for three months with a safety margin of four months, so a farmer would only have to go around four times a year,” he said.

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