A wildlife water drinker designed by a Gunnedah farmer will be mass produced and distributed in drought and fire-affected areas.
WIRES has committed $1 million for the production and distribution of 800 of Robert Frend's Tree Troffs, which can be installed in trees to provide water for a myriad of animals.
The purpose of the WIRES Water for Wildlife Project is to give landholders the opportunity to receive Tree Troffs free of charge so they can give wildlife access to water. WIRES is hopeful all of the drinkers will be installed before summer starts.
The drinkers have been used extensively for research purposes by the University of Sydney, led by zoologist Dr Valentina Mella and veterinary pathologist Mark Krockenberger.
The university has been using data and video footage from drinking sites on Mr Frend's property near Gunnedah to determine how often koalas drink and for how long, but they soon discovered many other marsupials, birds and reptiles also utilised the drinkers.
WIRES contacted Dr Mella and Mr Frend about the project early in the year and Mr Frend then went on to set up a business, Wildsip and engage Gunnedah businesses to produce the drinkers.
The design has been through many changes but the final "universal design" features bowl fed by a 220L drum attached to an "artificial limb" made of pine. This encourages wildlife to venture out to the drinkers and means they can be installed in a variety of trees.
A previous design could only be installed in the fork of a tree and this became a "bugbear" for Mr Frend.
"I had to break this mental blockage of adding a branch to a tree of all things. I had to look around the property for what actually worked ... as soon as I did that and put it in a tree with a koala, the koala drank that evening," he said.
"This design is now a universal design. It won't only work for trees here in the North West that tend to be low-branching, but also tall coastal type trees. And it can even be put on plantations of new trees, provided the tree has a diameter of 30cm and up about 3m."
The farmer said the drinkers could be maintained from ground level, which was important for usability.
"I've made little tweaks to make it more appealing and safer so everyone can participate," he said.
"This can be something people can actually participate in."
Mr Frend said he was "quietly excited" that the project had been funded after all these years and it was "a funny thing" that it all started with koalas but will now benefit all arboreal wildlife.
"We'll have to see how many people welcome the idea to start with. I would hope that the demand far exceeds supply," he said.
"It's been a team effort and conservation has got to be a total community collaborative effort ... it would be nice if we could prove all the predictions wrong about koalas going extinct before 2050.
"If we can make inroads as far as heat waves and climate change, it would be fantastic, I think. Something all of our generation could say, 'We beat the odds'."
Dr Mella said she would love to see the project extend even further so drinkers can be installed in national parks.
"Our dream was to have the drinkers out in the environment and throughout Australia and I think this is happening now," she said.
"If you think of national parks, that's where we'd like to see these things."
- Registrations of interest in the WIRES Water for Wildlife Project can be submitted via https://www.wires.org.au/water-for-wildlife