There's a certain irony in having to rescue a koala out of a tree but it's all in a day's work for the dedicated carers of Friends of the Koala (FOK). With the help of nine Essential Energy staff, FOK rescuer Simon Dobner donned a hard hat last week and went up in a cherry picker to bring an undernourished koala (nicknamed Paisley) down from the ailing tree it was sitting in near Tucki Road.
While the koala habitat in the Tucki-Wyrallah area is very fragmented , it still supports a lot of koalas and FOK care co-ordinator Pat Barnidge said the decision to rescue the little koala was not taken lightly.
"A member of the public rang us, concerned about the length of time the koala was spending in a clump of isolated, denuded trees close to the road verge," Pat said. "To the casual observer, koalas appear to spend days in the same tree, but they move about at night. In this area, there were not many trees for him to move on to and he was eating any new shoots as soon as they sprouted on the tree. As soon as I went out and looked at the terrible situation he was in, I could see he was a very young koala, underweight for his age and we had to bring him in."
Pat believes that young Paisley's mother could have been a sick female koala from the same area who died after being brought into care the previous week.
"Koala mothers often leave their babies to teach them to be on their own once they are weaned," Pat said. "Now he's in care with three other baby koalas in an outdoor aviary and hasn't stopped eating since he arrived. He'll stay there until his weight reaches four kilos then we'll soft release him into the bush with the other baby koalas."
Koalas are territorial animals and would normally be released back into the area they were found in, but because of the lack of suitable habitat in the Tucki area, Paisley will need to be released into a more forested area.
"Because he's young, territory is not yet imprinted on his mind and he should be able to readjust along with the other young koalas," Pat said.
Pat said the situation in the Tucki area is a frightening reminder about the importance of carefully managing the dwindling koala habitat in our local area, as addressed in Lismore City Council's comprehensive Koala Plan of Management. In northern NSW, many koalas are affected by disease and only live to the age of four or five years old, while in Victoria they often live to the age of 23.
"While many landowners here have enhanced their remnant patches of native vegetation by including koala food tree species, more needs to be done to extend habitat corridors if koalas are to be free of stress and kept off the ground where they are prone to predation," Pat said. "When koalas are not here anymore, people will throw up their hands and say 'why didn't we do something?'. The Koala Plan of Management is so important and we need to take it seriously."
To report a koala in trouble, a sighting, or to find out about ways you can assist the koala conservation effort in the Northern Rivers, phone Friends of the Koala's Rescue Hotline on 6622 1233 or visit www.friends ofthekoala.org.
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