Otways Koalas – researchers build understanding for habitat sustainability and a better future

 

CEC_Koala_023_
Photo credir Ali Corke

CEC_Koala_002_Photographer Kimberly Woods

Last spring Victoria Government vets and wildlife officers completed a two-week operation to improve the welfare of koalas at Cape Otway, capturing and assessing a total of 395 koalas.

 

DELWP Senior Biodiversity Officer Mandy Watson said: “The welfare actions were helping to address a complex, long-term overabundance problem facing koalas at Cape Otway.

 

“Of the 395 koalas assessed, a total of 341 healthy koalas were released back into the wild, 166 females were treated with fertility control hormone implants, and 37 koalas were radio-collared and translocated as part of a trial,” Ms Watson said.

“We are now focusing on the outcomes of the trial translocation, designed to test if koalas from Cape Otway can survive and adapt to mixed Eucalypt forest in other locations.

CEC_Koala_026_Photographer Chris Hyland CEC_Koala_032_Photographer Ali Corke

“The trial translocation involved moving 37 healthy koalas from Manna Gum woodland at Cape Otway to a habitat of mixed Eucalyptus tree species in the Great Otway National Park,” she said. To provide a control, 24 koalas released at Cape Otway were also fitted with radio collars. “The koalas will be recaptured and their health assessed after 30 days, in late October.”

Scientists from Arthur Rylah Institute are leading the trial and will review their research results with DELWP’s koala project team and a panel of animal welfare and ecological experts. Arthur Rylah Institute will be carefully monitoring the movement, health and survival of the translocated koalas to see how koalas survive in a new environment, handle a new food source, and move around and behave in different habitats.

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“This process needs to be completed before recommending future actions including whether to proceed with the proposed large scale translocation to areas of mixed Eucalypt forest,” Ms Watson said.

In addition to providing general information regarding translocation success, the radio-collared koalas are also providing more detailed information to researchers from the Conservation Ecology Centre (CEC) and Western Sydney University. While it is known that the bacteria inside the koala’s gut are vital to its ability to digest its diet of eucalyptus leaves – and, therefore, its survival – very little is known about how the microbes adjust to different diets and environment. This project will investigate how the composition and function of koala microbiomes changes when koalas are exposed to a new food source.

 

CEC Conservation & Research Manager Dr Jack Pascoe said: “The radio collared koalas at Cape Otway and the Otways hinterland are being tracked by our team. Once a koala is located we lay out shade cloth to gather fresh scats from that individual. The koalas are all feeding and moving across their habitat as we would hope and the scats we are collecting will provide crucial information regarding the ability of the gut microbes to adapt to new diets.

 

The results of this research will allow for better management of koalas in the future which is important for habitat sustainability and the welfare of our wildlife.”

CEC_Koala_010_Photographer Katlin Miller

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