28 Apr 2021
KOALAS FOREVER: WORKING TO DOUBLE WILD KOALAS WITH PORT STEPHENS KOALAS
2021 is the year WWF turns 60. With your support, we have achieved many great wins for nature. However, there is still so much more to be done to secure the future of our planet and wildlife. Before the catastrophic bushfires of 2019-2020, koalas were already on track to be extinct in NSW by 2050. That's why we are on a mission to double wild koala numbers across eastern Australia by 2050 as part of our work to Regenerate Australia.
The last 60 years of conservation has shown change is achieved when we work together. We can turn the tide for koalas. To achieve this, WWF is supporting facilities like Port Stephens Koalas; a wildlife hospital that cares for sick, injured and orphaned koalas until they can hopefully return to the wild.
Port Stephens is an area that Australia’s magnificent marsupial, the koala, calls home. Despite climate change, land clearing and threats of disease, dog attacks and car accidents, this important koala colony is battling on, but they need our help if they’re going to survive for generations to come.
In 2017, Port Stephens Koalas worked out of a shed and four rehabilitation yards. Fast forward to September 2020, and the facility has been revamped and reopened as a wildlife hospital.
Thanks to the WWF supporters who donated to the bushfire recovery, WWF-Australia was able to provide funding for vital equipment for the hospital's state of the art wildlife surgery room including an impressive X-ray machine, a portable ultrasound, and hospital grade surgery lights. This incredible hospital is designed to help the local koalas in the Port Stephens area, providing them with urgent care in emergency situations.
WWF was fortunate to be present to see the equipment used for the first time when Kevin the koala presented to the hospital after he had been hit by a car. Dr Donald Hudson, one of Australia’s top koala vets, explains further...
Who do we have here and how were they injured?
Kevin's a local Port Stephens koala who was hit by a car. He has some injuries to his head and to his claws because koalas often dig their claws into the road as they get hit. He’s walking very unsteadily so we need to make sure nothing serious has happened to his head or other limbs. He was given a little bit of sedation just so we could handle him safely and then we X-rayed his skull and jaw to make sure everything's alright. Thankfully the X-rays have come up very clear, and nothing is broken or damaged internally. He’s one of the few lucky ones to get hit by a car, and walk away from it with just a few bumps and bruises.
What does his recovery look like? Will he be released back into the wild?
It will probably be a week or so of rest until he gets his balance back. He needs to have good balance to climb trees again. He'll recover fully I believe and should be ready to go back to the wild in a few weeks.
What does this new equipment mean for the hospital?
We've got everything we could wish for here. It's great to get everything out and to start using it. The X-ray facility we've got is very nice and clear. We have our ultrasound here and we're just setting up our anaesthetic machine. To have everything on-site so that we don't need to move the koalas around, that we can sedate them and take the X-rays and then recover them safely and with minimal stress to the animal is just fantastic.
How does it make you feel to be helping the local koala population?
They're a part of our Australian culture, they're part of Australia and I think we all owe a little to give back. It's fantastic to see them released and go back into the wild.
Before Port Stephens Koalas Wildlife Hospital, injured and sick koalas were transferred to a domestic vet clinic. Not only was travelling to and from the clinic stressful, but the koalas would be near other animals like cats and dogs.
Ron Land, Chief Executive Officer at Port Stephens Koalas, realised the local koalas needed an on-site hospital of their own.
Why was opening this hospital important?
It's critical to have a local hospital where koalas can be treated in the golden hour. The first hour after injury.
How has WWF-Australia supported the hospital?
WWF has provided the funding for us to clinically fit out the hospital. Simply put, no WWF funding, no koala clinic.
What is your vision for the future with this hospital?
The goal of the hospital is to maximize survival rates. When we have success, we'll then determine whether the koala is fit enough to be released back into the wild. If it is, it’ll be released, but if not, we’ll keep it here safe for the rest of its days. We would then mate those koalas under our existing license to produce healthy progeny for release into the wild. It will start the very long process of repopulating the wild with koalas.
Why are the koala populations around Port Stephens so important?
The Port Stephens koala population is vital to the overall state population because it's one of the last surviving colonies of wild koalas in New South Wales. We estimate there are no more than 250 koalas left in the Port Stephens colony, and unless we're able to make a success of these facilities and our programs, koalas will be extinct in Port Stephens within 10 years.
Other than bushfires, what threats do koalas face?
The number one enemy for koalas in Australia is loss of habitat. So even if people reside in areas where there are no wild koalas, they need to apply pressure to their politicians to have koalas in New South Wales declared an endangered species.
How does it make you feel to be making a difference to the local koalas?
Well, it's not hard to feel good when you're playing a pivotal role in saving an Australian icon.
Koalas were already on a path to extinction in eastern Australia by 2050 even before the bushfires. Now the situation has worsened. At least 6,000 koalas perished in the 2019/20 bushfire emergency in NSW alone.
To turn this tragedy around, WWF-Australia has an ambitious plan to double the number of koalas in eastern Australia by 2050. WWF and its partners like Port Stephens Koalas are working together to strengthen the laws to protect koala habitat, restore and create new habitat through tree planting, and provide incentives for landowners to create private safe havens for koalas.
Recently, more than 50 hectares of key koala habitat in Port Stephens has been set to be destroyed for an expansion of a quarry. This government decision has been made although the koala was officially listed as endangered.
This is why it is more important than ever to protect unburnt forests after thousands of koalas and hectares of habitat were wiped out in NSW during the bushfires. To turn this vision into a reality, our Regenerate Australia program aims to restore and revitalise our wildlife and landscapes for the future of all Australians. Our Koalas Forever program is just one of four projects aimed to kick-start our nation’s recovery and regeneration.
Join us on our mission to Regenerate Australia, and we’ll plant a native tree on your behalf. One Signature = One Tree Planted.