Helping our koalas in the heat

8 months ago

Clagiraba residents, Ute and Jens Sohnrey, are passionate about nature conservation and are members of both the Koala Friends, and Land for Wildlife Programs. Their backyard is a favourite for a number of local resident koalas which they are able to recognise individually.

In an effort to help the local wildlife, particularly during periods of hot dry weather, Ute and Jens have set up a number of wildlife drinking stations on their property. With some help from an infrared camera they have discovered (much to their delight), that they have some thirsty visitors.

In particular, one regular visitor to their drinking station is a koala named Taggy (because of the red tag in his ear). He first started visiting their property in June 2014 and has been hanging around ever since. In April this year, Taggy was caught and taken to Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital for treatment of conjunctivitis, where it was discovered that he was one of the koalas that was translocated from Coomera as a sub-adult in 2013 (then going by the name Dino). After successful antibiotic treatment he was released back into his home range where he continues to visit Ute and Jens and their irresistible water dish.

Typically koalas will get most of their water intake from their diet of mainly eucalypt leaves, but will come to the ground to drink water if needed. It is thought that provision of supplementary water could help koalas during heat and drought events, and might help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Research is currently being undertaken by the University of Sydney on the use of artificial water stations by koalas in Gunnedah, NSW. Initially, the researchers set out to determine if koalas will use these stations to supplement their water needs. During the first 12 months of the study, the research team recorded 605 visits to 10 pairs of water stations, with 401 of these visits being koalas drinking. They found that the total number of visits and total time drinking doubled during summer compared to other seasons. They are now collecting data on the health of the animals and their behaviours. See: https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2019/06/06/koala-drinking-stations-can-reduce-impact-of-climate-change.htmlhttps://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2019/06/06/koala-drinking-stations-can-reduce-impact-of-climate-change.html

If you live in an area with koalas and would like to provide water, here are some tips:

  • To avoid accidental drowning, choose a dish that is shallow - a bird bath dish is perfect.

  • Place dish at least 2m up a tree, wedged securely into a fork or onto a custom built platform.

  • If possible, choose a tree that is preferred by koalas. On the Gold Coast, this would be tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys), small fruited grey gum (Eucalyptus propinqua), swamp mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta) or river red gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis). If you don’t have any of these trees choose another gum tree, or brush box.

  • Change water and clean dish regularly, using a stiff brush to remove slime and algae. Don't use disinfectants or algaecides as this may harm wildlife.

  • If you have a dog, put the water in an area that the dog can't access. At night bring your dog inside, or into an enclosed area inaccessible to koalas.

If you are unable to find a suitable tree to put the water dish in, you could also put it on the ground, ensuring that:

  • the koala will be safe from predators such as dogs, and

  • the dish is placed at the base of a tree to allow for an easy and quick escape route for koalas.

Be patient - it may take weeks or months until your water dish starts being used. Even if koalas decide not to use it, it is likely to be popular with other native animals including birds and insects.

Image 1: Taggy/Dino in October 2015. Credit: Ute and Jen Sohnrey

Image 2: Taggy/Dino in October 2017 Credit: Ute and Jen Sohnrey

Image 3: Taggy/Dino in February 2019 Credit: Ute and Jen Sohnrey

Image 4: Taggy/Dino having a drink in August 2019 Credit: Ute and Jen Sohnrey
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