Sydney university koala researchers are feeling more positive after a visit to Gunnedah this week.
Zoologist Dr Valentina Mella and her colleague, veterinary pathologist Professor Mark Krockenberger, popped into town for a few days to see how the shire's koalas are faring in preparation for a long-awaited chlamydia vaccine trial.
Conditions have improved at Robert Frend's property Dimberoy where the city-siders conduct much of their research and have established water drinkers with the help of the farmer.
"We were checking on koalas after the February trip and in preparation for the vaccination work," Dr Mella said.
"We track them at the site and then we look at them from a distance, so it's not as easy to tell how well they are.
"I'd say the site looks better, meaning it's very green everywhere ... it's something I hadn't seen in Gunnedah for about three years.
"The trees take a bit longer to respond to rain; it's not an immediate effect ... he trees that were beyond recovery were dead - and we've seen a few - and the others seem like they are getting a bit better."
Dr Mella said two koalas they captured and delivered into the care of wildlife carer Martine Moran in February are still alive after being re-released at Dimberoy in April.
"We know for sure the two animals we took into care and were released back, are fine ... we get videos of them coming to the [water] drinkers, so we know they're there," she said.
"The other thing we have seen is a couple of animals with no tags, which means we've never caught them before ... it means either they're still reproducing or have come from somewhere else. We always worry when numbers go down, go to zero, but they're obviously immigrating from somewhere else.
"To know where they come from, you'd had to do really wide tracking."
Dr Mella and Professor Krockenberger were unable to do data collection this time around because they need more helping hands and COVID-19 restrictions put a stop to this with social distancing.
The researchers originally planned to carry out the chlamydia vaccine trial in autumn but the effect of the pandemic pushed it back to later in the year.
"We're still hopeful for the vaccination. We're hoping by September we'll be able to come and do the studies," Dr Mella said.
"We'll wait and see but we're pretty confident by then we should be able to."
In the meantime, Dr Mella published a paper on koalas licking rain water off trees, using observations of koalas drinking collated by citizen scientists and independent ecologists between 2006 and 2019.
She said as the rain runs down the tree trunks, it becomes like a "waterfall" and makes it easy for the koalas to lap it up.
"It's something I knew nothing about until I spoke to a researcher in the US ... it's a very common phenomena in trees ... I'm very interested in this," she said.
T"he koalas come less to our drinking stations when it rains more so it will be interesting to see how they get that water because people think they go on the ground but they can just sit in the trees."
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