Koalas In The News

It’s been a huge month for the koala! From the koala heartland Redlands Council to Canberra and across the Pacific to Ground Zero, the koala is a symbol of hope and social consciousness, evoking an uplifting air of playfulness and security to many people.

Yet as a society it has been neglected for far too long. Let’s hope the government follows through with the recommendations from the senate inquiry into the conservation status of our beloved national icon. Here’s a sample of koalas in the news from the first half of September.

Baby boomerang? – September 7, 2011

Koala Maggie climbs a tree with her joey at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. Although already 7 months old, the joey has only been out of its mother’s pouch for about a month.

MAC KOALA: Trek ends up 700m away – September 7, 2011

TWO weeks ago I reported Jemima, the young female we moved to Tarlo River National Park was moving back and forth across the park.

Her last radio-tracked location on September 2 was 2.6 km south west of her previous fix on August 24. This means she has now zig-zagged eight kilometres between tracking points since July 24. Now she has returned to a point only 700m from where she was on February 8. We would love to know why she is moving about so much. Such activity would be using a lot of energy and koalas don’t have much to spare because eucalypt leaves are not an easy food from which to extract nutrients. Our guess is she’s seeking a suitable male. These may not be plentiful as in the five years the Tarlo project has run our radio-trackers have only spotted two local koalas.

Meanwhile back in Campbelltown, Price has been challenged by an untagged male that turned up in a backyard in Carrington Circuit only 200m from Abercrombie Reserve where Price has been bellowing for the past month.

Darling Avenue at Ruse has also been busy with a large male, probably Reid, looking over the back fences of houses in Dandenong Crescent. Further down Darling Avenue at the junction with Georges River Road, an untagged juvenile had confused itself by climbing a phone pole. Motorists should be on the lookout for this youngster — and it won’t be street-wise.

A kilometre down the road at Kentlyn Primary School, Vicki turned up after a long absence. She is the daughter of June and the grand-daughter of Shirley and is now eight years old. Vicki is the older sister of Alice who also reappeared this week just around the corner in Old Kent Road.

A more unusual report was from near the boom gate at the Heathcote Road end of the Holsworthy Army facility, where a large male was being attacked by a crow. The koala was ignoring the crow and it also ignored our flag, despite the assistance of the Regional Environmental Officer for the Department of Defence, Robert Kolano, and some visiting environmental scientists.

Old male koalas are not easily disturbed and we were forced to leave him high in his tree. Hopefully, he’ll stay on the base and not try to cross Heathcote Road.

Report all koala sightings: UWS koala pager, 9962 9996.

Koala advocate calls for strict dog controls – September 8, 2011

A wildlife protection advocate is calling for limits on the number of pet dogs living near koala habitats, after a spike in fatal attacks on the vulnerable native animals in recent months.

Megan Aitken from Moreton Bay Koala Rescue said residential developments were still taking place near the highest-level koala protection areas in the region, with inappropriate dog controls.

Under Moreton Bay Regional Council’s new animal management law that came into effect last month, dog owners living in koala areas must “place the dog in an enclosure between sunset and sunrise to prevent it from attacking a koala”.

Owners must also “tether the dog” to prevent it from attacking “if a koala is on land to which a dog has access”. However, the law does not specify how many dogs can be kept on properties near known koala habitats.

“I think Council needs to have stronger dog laws and they need to stand up and say, ‘these areas have koala habitats surrounding them’… but there’s no (specific) dog laws,” Ms Aitken said.

“If you buy a house in a development that clearly has koalas there… you should either forego having a dog or make sure they’re secure at night. We should have areas in koala habitat that should be no dogs allowed, whatsoever.”

Ms Aitken’s comments come after a koala was savaged by three dogs at Cashmere. The koala had the flesh ripped off its arm, severing tendons and exposing bones, when it became trapped in a wooden gate. “The vet that treated it said it was the worst dog attack that she’s worked on,” Ms Aitken said. “I think I’ve probably only seen one other which was worse, where the koala’s arm was actually chewed off while the poor thing was still alive.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say ‘our dog could never hurt a koala or a possum’… but that’s the reality and that’s what’s happening to our poor wildlife being shredded. People don’t realise that their animals can do such damage. “This particular estate in Cashmere has a big sign saying that koalas live in the area, so why are there sometimes up to three dogs allowed in people’s property?”

Wildcare Australia and Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital volunteer Naomi Mumford said a fatal koala attack at Cedar Creek last month highlighted the need for canines to be fenced in dog yards in rural areas. “Unfortunately most dog owners only see their doe-eyed companions when they look at their dogs, but a dog’s natural instinct is to chase what moves,” Ms Mumford said.“If they can catch it (native animals), they give it a great big shake. The damage is done at this point, if they (wildlife) have not already died of shock.”

Ms Aitken said the onus on koala protection should also lie with developers. “Developers need to look at smart ways of developing, they need to leave (wildlife) corridors alone, they need to ban dogs and they need to reduce speed limits,” she said.“That will certainly go a long way to helping us to live sustainably with koalas.

Council warns graffiti artists… the writing is on the wall – September 8, 2011

REDLAND City Council has ramped up its anti-graffiti stance and will now pay to remove graffiti classified as offensive to the public from private property.

Redland City Council held a three-day workshop for school kids with professional artists known as “Sudsy” and “Lucks” in a bid to stop graffiti damaging private and public property. At the workshop, kids designed art to “reflect their perceptions of environmental challenges” the Redlands faced.

The two professionals used the designs to make posters that now grace bus stops in and around Redlands. Posters are also at Redland high schools and at council’s customer service centres.

Thirteen-year-old Caleb O’Brien from Redlands College participated in the graffiti poster project. “The people running the program, who were talented Australian graffiti artists, came to my school and did a short presentation on ‘the green revolution’. “They wanted students to tell them what they were worried about concerning the environment.

We had to express ideas through art rather than words. “The most urgent environmental problem facing Redlands was the loss of habitat for endangered animals,” he said.

Fredericksburg museum exhibits remember 9/11 – September 9, 2011

Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, will offer the public its first look at two regional exhibits that recall and reflect on those horrific events and their aftermath.

Opening at the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center, both shows spring directly from people’s experiences, including those of local residents. Accounts from eyewitnesses, survivors, first responders, military personnel and federal workers are the crux of the main exhibition, “Fredericksburg Remembers 9/11,” which occupies the ground-floor galleries of Old Town Hall…

An array of artifacts buttresses the personal experiences: limestone from the smoke-blackened west side of the Pentagon where American Airlines Flight 77 struck, part of a World Trade Center steel beam fashioned into a cross, an Arlington firefighter’s emergency gear and uniform.

Some of the simplest items are the most moving:

  • A backboard used by LifeCare medevac crews to transport injured people from the Pentagon to hospitals.

  • A copy of the Quran.

  • Squishy, a Koala bear toy that Army Maj. Ed Sabo of Fredericksburg was given by his daughters, Katie, Lizzie and Torie, to keep him safe when he deployed to Diwaynia, Iraq, in 2010. He carried Squishy, tucked in a uniform pocket, virtually everywhere.

  • A banner from Operation Noble Eagle, the months-long homeland-security effort to safeguard U.S. facilities immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. Local members of the Virginia Army National Guard received the banner after protecting Fort McNair, home of the National Defense University, in Washington.

Koala Cuisine – September 10, 2011

Koalas are picky eaters. There are more than 800 species of Eucalypt in the world but koalas don’t eat all of them. And of the ones they do eat, they only munch on the tips. Talk about fussy! So when it comes to feeding four Queensland Koalas at Perth Zoo, we need to make sure we have a lot of trees to choose from.

Luckily, Perth Zoo has a big supply of 14,000 trees. For the past 20 years, Perth Zoo has maintained an off-site plantation which is carefully managed to ensure a steady year-round supply of tasty Eucalypt tips.

Perth Zoo Horticulturist Kathie Mauger says the plantation began in 1991 but Perth Zoo has only been completely self-sufficient for the past five years.

“Previously, our Eucalypt leaves were supplemented with stock from Yanchep National Park,” Kathie says. “Now, we’re very pleased to get everything we need from our own plantation at Byford.”

Every two days, Perth Zoo’s leaf-cutter heads out to the plantation and cuts between 56 and 84 branches, making sure to select quality tips. While the branch might be 1.5 metres long, the koalas typically eat only 30 cm off the top. The rest is collected at the end of the day and mulched.

“To cater for their selective tastes, we grow seven types of Eucalypt, six from New South Wales and Queensland and one Western Australian species. Of course, there are no koalas in the wild in WA but the Queensland Koalas at the Zoo are partial to a bit of WA Flooded Gum.

“Each day we try to give them a different selection to vary the taste. It appears that the koalas have a favourite, Eucalyptus camaldulensis or the Red River Gum, but they can’t eat that all the time.”

Once enough branches are collected, they’re loaded into the back of a covered ute with wet hessian sacks over the top to keep them moist and fresh. They are then delivered straight to the koalas’ exhibit and stored in water buckets.

“We have to make sure the leaves retain their moisture as koalas get all the food and water they need from the Eucalypt tips. Dried leaves just won’t do.”

The Zoo’s plantation is divided into plots with different varieties grouped into lots depending on the tree’s age.

When a new tree is planted, it is left to grow for about seven years and even then it’s not ready for harvest. The trees are then cut back to stumps, a practice known as coppicing. This is done to encourage regrowth which is what the koalas prefer. It also creates a manageable harvesting height.

Twelve months later, the tree is finally ready for harvesting for koala food. “We need to wait those 12 months as the new shoots produce a phenolic compound which makes them unpalatable to mammals like koalas and possums. “After 12 months, the toxin fades. Leaves and branches are harvested for another three years after that before they’re cut back to the stump and the process begins again. “We hope to get 20 to 25 years out of the trees before they stop producing good quality tips and then we dig them out and plant new ones.”

Because the plantation has been going for 20 years, the paddocks are all at various stages of growth. This ensures a constant supply. The plantation is spread over many hectares which helps guards against the impact of fire or disease. “A water system is in place to put out fires but that’s the only time water would be used for the plantation. We rely on the winter rains to make everything grow. “The koala food also has to be produced organically. We don’t use any artificial fertilisers or pesticides, just good quality soil and a lot of love and care by the horticultural team. I think the koalas get the best meals in the Zoo.”

Council to maintain Sheldon block – September 12, 2011

REDLAND City Council has decided to accept trusteeship of 45.8ha of land on Avalon Road, Sheldon, which it plans to use to cultivate koala habitats and for sport and recreation.

The in-principle decision was made at last week’s Planning and Policy committee meeting. The State Government will relinquish the land, currently used for grazing, to the council in five years’ time. A council report said the site, which has 10 dams and some animal stables, would be used for “environmental purposes” and “sport and recreation”.

Owners of the property notified the Department of Environment and Resource Management of their intention to sell the land under the State Government’s Koala Conservation Acquisition program. The sale will not proceed if the council refuses to sign on as trustee of the property.

In June, DERM notified the council it planned to buy the property to restore koala habitat but wanted the council to commit to maintaining the land after 2016. Once acquired, the State will revegetate and restore the land over a five-year period.

The property adjoins an old pineapple farm, recently bought by Karremans Quarries. To the north is Emu Street Bushland Refuge with Tingalpa Creek and Brisbane Koala Bushland to the west.

A council officer told Wednesday’s committee that in a “worst-case scenario”, maintenance costs would be $20,000 a year. “The financial implications are no greater than $500 per hectare at the top end,” the officer told the committee. “But we do not expect the maintenance cost to be anywhere near that amount. “The land will already be revegetated and maintained so our costs will be minimal,” the officer said.

Before accepting trusteeship of the site from the State, the council stipulated conditions including revegetation, a five-year maintenance period and removal of all “hazards”. Councillor Helen Murray, Division 10, said she was pleased the council would consider drying out one of the dams in a bid to conquer cane toads.

List koalas as endangered species: Greens – September 14, 2011

They spend their days looking half asleep while gorging on gum leaves. But the seemingly lazy ways of Australia’s koalas need to be preserved under federal laws, the Australian Greens say.

Greens senator Larissa Waters will push for the marsupials to be listed as a nationally-threatened species in the Senate today. “The koala is not listed as nationally threatened because there are clumps where there are quite a lot of them,” she told reporters in Canberra. “But there are areas where there are very few.”

Such areas include Queensland’s “koala coast”, which encompasses the bayside portions of the Redland, Brisbane and Logan local government areas. With fewer than 5000 koalas left in south-east Queensland, Senator Waters believes koalas along the koala coast may become extinct during the next 10 years. “I don’t know what they will call it if there are no koalas left,” she said.

If the koala were listed as a nationally threatened species (under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act), it would be an offence to injure the creature. “It also means that any development that is going to have a significant impact on koalas needs to get federal approval,” Senator Waters said. “So it basically brings in an extra layer of protection, that might mean a development has to be stopped, or there can be conditions.”

Such conditions might include the retention of important habitat trees. Loss of habitat was one of the greatest pressures driving species to extinction, Senator Waters said. “If we’re going to stop the decline on biodiversity we should put the brakes on development in the only areas (that) threatened species still exist.”

MAC KOALA: Invasion of the reserve - September 14, 2011

IT’S years now since I asked friends who lived in Nymboida Crescent (which adjoins Smith Creek Reserve) at Ruse whether they had ever seen or heard koalas in the reserve. They said they hadn’t. I then predicted that koalas would eventually become relatively common and that the loud grunting of the male koalas would be heard the length of the reserve.

That prediction is now reality.

A regular caller who has taken a special interest reported that Price was still calling from Abercrombie Reserve (an offshoot of Smiths Creek Reserve) and that she could hear a second male calling from a distance of about 200 metres.

This second animal was the one mentioned in last week’s column, from near the shops on Carrington Circuit. This untagged male was later recorded in adjacent Bailey Street and, finally, back in Carrington Circuit. People who live in that area might like to listen for the amazing calls on still evenings about 10pm.

Another caller reported a large koala in Wyangala Crescent about 500 metres across the reserve. This animal had a scratch on its right rump that matched the mark we noticed the previous week on Reid after his fight with three dogs in Denison Street. If so, Reid has moved more than a kilometre since the fight.

About 2km further south along the creek at Canberra Crescent, a call that sounded like a scream rather than a grunt was reported.

Two koalas were observed, first on the ground then later in a tree, where they were sitting two metres apart. We had previously seen a female with a large cub near Canberra Crescent, so one explanation for the scream is that the mother was trying to send the cub off on its own.

Another possibility is the cub had already departed and the mother was interacting with a male as part of the vigorous mating process.

At Wedderburn Gorge, a motorist reported she had struck a koala. Fortunately, she had slowed almost to a standstill. This area is the home of Martine whom we last saw 12 months ago. She would now be 14 and the oldest of our tagged, living animals. We would like to know if she is still alive so we ask motorists to watch out for her and to look for eartags.

Report all koala sightings: UWS koala pager, 9962 9996.

Glow-in-the-dark transgenic cats – September 14, 2011

BRISTOL: Domestic cats have been genetically modified to resist the feline form of AIDS in a new study that could have significant implications for health researchers working to protect humans from the virus.

Cats and humans are both afflicted with pandemic AIDS lentiviruses – a type of retrovirus characterised by a long incubation period. The feline equivalent to the human virus, HIV-1, is known as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). These two viruses are very similar both in their genomic structure and in the way the disease manifests within the host.

Researchers based out of the Mayo Clinic, a non-profit medical research centre in the U.S., recently introduced the genetic code for proteins known to inhibit the replication of both HIV-1 and FIV into the DNA of cats.

“For the first time we have the ability to manipulate protection genes into an AIDS susceptible animal,” said Eric Poeschla, an infectious diseases virologist at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, and senior author on the paper published in Nature Methods.

Gene therapy for conservation

The transgenic cats created by Poeschla and his colleagues may also have important applications for the conservation of threatened species.

Species with very few remaining individuals due to habitat loss and depletion of resources have less genetic diversity, and are less likely to have the genetic coding to help them resist disease.

The Iberian lynx has an estimated 250 individuals remaining and is susceptible to the feline leukemia virus. In 2008, the koala retrovirus was linked to 80% of captive koala deaths in Queensland, Australia.

It’s possible that in the future gene therapy may be considered for small populations of endangered species threatened by disease.

Still the great Offender – September 14, 2011

As one reviewer of a new biography about kamikaze comedian Austen Tayshus put it, he has burnt more bridges than the Red Army. Historian Ross Fitzgerald, co-author of the biography The Merchant of Menace, points out that farce and satire are not so well understood in Australia – which is one of many reasons the extreme act of Austen Tayshus, aka Alexander “Sandy” Gutman, is not fully appreciated.

“Barry Humphries and Sandy Gutman are Australia’s two most talented, living comedians,” Fitzgerald tells anyone who cares to listen. He and co-writer, the WA-based Rick Murphy, wrote the book on the condition that Gutman had no editorial input or any right of veto.

As their book notes, Gutman’s splenetic career has largely been driven by his ongoing, obsessive anger as the son of a migrant Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor.

Again and again, he hacks into his audiences, putting ignorance, intolerance, religious and political dogma, and cultural shibboleths to the sword of his razor-sharp tongue.

It is nearly 30 years since Tayshus touched the collective chord with Australiana, the pun-laden riff (“How much can a koala bear?”) which was the world’s first spoken-word comedy No. 1 and the biggest-selling Australian single of all time.

MP’s cut carbon tax debate to walk outside parliament and cuddle a koala – September 14, 2011

IT’S the most controversial piece of legislation currently in the federal parliament which has brought down two political leaders – but MPs were more interested in zoo animals this morning than the carbon tax debate.

When Opposition Leader Tony Abbott addressed the House of Representatives on this issue just after 9am the chamber was packed with MPs from both sides – including Prime Minister Julia Gillard. But interest waned soon after, and by 10am a group of MPs and senators had gathered in the Senate courtyard to attend an event hosted by the Zoo and Aquarium Association.

Politicians fawned over Nara, the dingo, Stumpy, the shingleback lizard, Maize, the Stimson’s python, and Winston, the koala. Labor MP Melissa Parke let Maize slither over her head and shoulders, but it was Winston who was the biggest hit, with MPs lining up for a pat and a photo opportunity.

In total there were four MPs in the courtyard with the animals – two Liberal and two Labor – and three senators – two Liberal and one Green. At the same time in the House of Representatives, only three MPs – Liberal MP Alby Schultz, Labor frontbencher Martin Ferguson and Labor backbencher Shayne Neumann – were there to listen as senior Liberal frontbencher Ian Macfarlane outlined his opposition to the carbon tax.

In the Senate courtyard, Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters outlined a Greens motion calling on the Gillard Government to reverse the decline of Australia’s biodiversity. Senator Waters wants the government and federal opposition to support moves to stop the environment minister of the day from granting approval to any development that would push a species to a higher level of endangerment.


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