Connector Newsletter Issue 38

Vital work to preserve Strzelecki koalas

July 17, 2023

By Celeste Brittain- Sentinel Times 

In recent months through scat analysis (examining koala poo) Strzelecki koalas have been found in the woodlands, an area to date they were not known to inhabit. Ecologist Kelly Smith from the Western Port Biosphere is the researcher making the Strzelecki koala discoveries in the woodlands.

“This find is pretty special,” she said.

“This area hasn’t been found yet, hasn’t been studied yet for this Strzelecki genome. It just proves, you know, that quite possibly these koalas could be all across Victoria, we just need to study them. And it can be done easily through scat analysis.”

Through conducting scat analysis in the woodlands as part of her Honour’s thesis at Federation University and using the help of about 30 volunteers (citizen scientists), Kelly found one Strzelecki Koala in the Grantville Nature Reserve late last year.

Kelly undertook further research through a grant from Melbourne Water and Bass Coast Shire to conduct more scat analysis in the woodlands this year, through a Koala Awareness Program with the Western Port Biosphere.

She found two more Strzelecki Koalas at the Grantville Natures Reserve. Kelly and her team of citizen scientists also found two Strzelecki koalas in Inverloch and Cape Paterson.

She believes the discoveries of Strzelecki koalas in the woodlands are significant because they show that another important species exists within the woodlands that needs to be protected.

The Strzelecki koalas are an important species because of their genetic make-up.

Unlike others found in the state, the Strzelecki koala, originating in the Strzelecki ranges- Gippsland, has not been translocated from the Island colonies of French Island or Phillip Island.

According to a 2013 report by Friends of The Strzelecki Koala this means that they “a more genetically intact example of a wild population of koalas.”

They also survived hunting in the 19th century which adds to their significance.

As Kelly explains in her research- A Population genetic study of koalas using scats collected by citizen scientists on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria- the translocation of koala populations occurred after European settlement.

At that time there was a decline in koala populations due to disease, fire, extensive hunting and drought.

To increase the numbers, the state government introduced a breeding program where koalas from Island colonies (French and Phillip Island) were brought to the mainland.

These translocated koalas were however founded on small numbers, so their genetic diversity was low plus inbreeding occurred which resulted in them having abnormalities and diseases.

Kelly says the Strzelecki Koala is “very special and needs protecting.”

Unlike its northern koala counterparts, it is not currently listed as endangered under the EPBC Act 1999 but rather listed as secure.

The Strzelecki Koala faces many threats (climate change, predators, bushfires), but the biggest is loss of habitat which Kelly said is occurring at an alarming rate

Kelly said koalas are not going to thrive in an island of vegetation; they need to move through bio-links.

She said there is a lot of revegetation work being done and she will be joining the Mornington Peninsula Koala Conservation Group to work on a bio-link program that she said also involves the Cardinia shire, South Gippsland Shire and Bass Coast Shire.

If interested in assisting for the Gippsland region (north of sale and sub alpine areas) please contact Kelly at – [email protected]


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