Mimi, who when rescued in November 2020 had her left eye removed, was ready this month to start the next stage of her rehabilitation journey. It is always a concern when we release koalas back to the wild as to how they will go, but in Mimi’s case we were all the more cautious. When a koala loses an eye, it loses perspective, depth, peripheral vision, and after spending 5 months in care, Mimi had also lost muscle mass, reducing her overall strength.
In order to prepare her for release and increase her strength, Mimi was transferred to a soft release enclosure, a fenced area which included two trees of her favourite food species, Swamp Mahogany, and Silky Oak. On arrival she climbed the tree with delight and spent the first day checking out life from her high vantage point. But it soon began clear she understood her limitations. Rather than leaping between branches, she would reach out for leaf and when unable to reach, she would climb down until she could safely change branches.
Over a week and a half, I monitored Mimi closely and she passed every test. She climbed well, developed perspective of where branches and leaves were, moved between trees and around the enclosure and responded well to disturbance. In addition to these critical abilities, Mimi showed she was able to manage her environment – climbing to the place which caught the last bit of sun of the day (to keep her warm overnight), moving to the most protected place from the prevailing wind, to avoid getting drenched in the rain, and laying back or tree-hugging to cool herself. Mimi was ready for the wild!
After containing her, Mimi was transported and released back home. She looked back once, as if to say ‘thank you’, before climbing up high. We wish her all the best and look forward to receiving sightings from the local community who love her.
This week we officially launched our Bushfire Recovery Nursery, made possible by the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife (FNPW). The new nursery site extends our current capacity, enabling us to propagate and distribute 240,000 koala food tree seedlings over the next 3 years. This is a major step towards supporting the recovery of critically impacted koala populations and their habitat following the 2019-2020 bushfire season.
Native seedlings, such as the Forest Red Gum, Tallowwood and Swamp Mahogany, will be planted in the nursery over the coming months. Once these trees have reached maturity, they will be planted across the Northern Rivers region of NSW.
The nursery expansion comes with thanks to Southern Cross University, after the land was generously donated, 200 meters from our Centre in East Lismore. Unlike the existing nursery site, the Bushfire Recovery Nursery site receives sun all year round, providing ideal growing conditions for propagated seedlings. The new site also has additional volunteer facilities to enable potting up and tree maintenance activities.
This project would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of Mark Wilson, our Nursery Manager.
Since starting late last year, we have overseen some exciting growth in our staff team. Jackie Reed (Superintendent Vet) and Richard Atkin (Change Manager) have been working closely to scale the vet services team with support from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) who fund all FOK’s costs relating to vet capacity. We’ve recently welcomed Jodie Wakeman (Vet) (pictured) and Sally Green (Vet Nurse) to the team to support the tireless work of Jackie and Marley Christian (Senior Vet Nurse). They both bring a wealth of experience and by having the additional resources available FOK is able to provide onsite veterinary triage support seven days a week. Also, big congrats to Jackie who recently celebrated her one-year anniversary at FOK.
Away from the Koala Hospital, Nicci Carter, who started late last year, has had her role upgraded to Finance Manager to support with the increasing demands in this area of the organisation. We’re lucky that Nicci has chosen to move on from some of her private clients to make herself more available to support the great work of FOK. The recruitment of Jo Kehoe (Admin Officer) is another important evolution of the professional services team. The Admin Officer function will double as the primary point for our volunteers and members of the public; Jo will be working onsite from 10am-3pm Monday to Friday to facilitate this alongside other role requirements. It will also allow Claire Agnew (Manager, Operations and Communications) to focus on higher level business functions which has been an identified area of need for some time, particularly regarding raising awareness around FOK’s work and engaging with potential funding partners. This has already paid dividends with Claire securing and offer of support earlier this week of $50,000 per year on an ongoing basis. A great result, and hopefully a sign of things to come!
A sure indicator of success when undertaking koala habitat restoration projects is having planted trees browsed by koalas. This has been the case on the Lismore floodplain where two-year-old trees are being regularly browsed by the very animal that we are targeting, the ‘Iconic’ koala. Scratch marks (like the ones above) and scats are clear indicators of activity.
A variety of other trees, including many non-eucalypts, are also used by koalas for feeding and shelter, or other behavioural purposes. These species have been included in the planting mix. Species such as Callistemon, Leptospermum and Casuarinas have an important role in the habitat restoration process. The planting mix is designed to ensure a wide range of species will benefit from the habitat enhancement work. For example, the threatened flying fox feeds on red gum blossoms during the winter months when food is scarce.
As we know koalas have a firm preference for eucalypt varieties and on the Lismore floodplain it is Eucalyptus tereticornis (Forest Red Gum). However, E. tereticornis growing on flats with heavier alluvial soils and good moisture availability may not be favourable to the same koalas on slopes where nutrients are not as readily available. It is these preferences that require our ‘leafers’ to provide leaf from different locations when catering for the needs of koalas in care.
The habitat enhancement work being undertaken on the Wilson River floodplain at Monaltrie, funded by the NSW Environmental Trust, focuses on the control of woody weeds, specifically coral tree, and vines. More than 4000 trees have been planted along 9km of riverbank, as replacements for these environmental weeds. The aim is to create a linear corridor for koalas and other fauna. Coral trees are stem injected; the trees break down quickly in comparison to hardwoods enabling endemic species to be planted amongst the fallen limbs. Coral trees on the lower bank must be retained as bank stabilisers.
Thanks to the ongoing support from Billie Roberts and the NSW Saving Our Species program, FOK bush regeneration teams have been able to continue the vital corridor restoration works on the banks of the Wilson River south of Lismore. The work focuses on controlling woody weeds, specifically Indian coral tree and replacing them with endemic species. Forest red gums, a primary koala food tree are included in the species mix at a 1:3 ratio. Forest red gums are the dominant eucalypt on the Richmond River floodplain. Woody weeds are controlled using the stem injection method.
After three months of selling tickets at markets, in homes and on the streets of Lismore and Casino our first raffle for 2021 was drawn on Monday March 1. The Lismore Mayor, Vanessa Ekins (pictured) pulled the winning tickets at Friends of the Koala along with Burribi our mascot and volunteers Lola Whitney and Debbie Gooley.
1st prize was won by Danny Flynn – A Flow Hive 2 donated by Flow
2nd prize was won by Rhonda James – two nights’ accommodation at the Ramada Hotel Suites Ballina and Byron Bay
3rd prize was won by Ann Vernall – A Wanderer’s Camp Chair by BCF
4th prize was won by Josh Turton – $100 Bunnings Voucher
The raffle fundraising team, headed up by Debbie, would like to sincerely thank everyone involved especially the raffle sellers and the generous businesses that donated prizes. We raised over $5000 which will help towards our daily operating costs.
In case you missed the news, Triumph our male resident koala has received the first koala prosthesis. Triumph only has three feet, a congenital defect he received from birth. Instead of a foot on his right leg, he has a stump with a small foot pad on the end. While he moves around considerably well, he struggles to climb like a typical koala as putting pressure on his stump is painful. Since coming into care as a 10 month old joey, almost 4 years ago, Marley our IFAW Sponsored Vet Nurse and Triumph’s foster mum, worked tirelessly to find a prosthesis which could enhance his quality of life. Triumph’s case presented a lot of challenges. Unlike other mammals such as cats and dogs, that use two legs from the same side when moving, koalas climb with opposite hands and feet providing them greater stability. This specific gait pattern resulted in many professionals in the field claiming it could not be done.
After a callout on social media, we began working with internationally renowned pet prosthetic specialists Bionic Pets, but it quickly became clear a hands on approach was required. Although koalas are not his usual patients, Lismore based Dental Prosthetist, Jon Doulman offered to help. After taking numerous measurements and casts, Jon created a small rubber prosthetic boot.
For months, Triumph wore a sock on his stump which not only protected his foot pad but prepared him for an eventual prosthesis. Much to delight of volunteers and staff, Triumph allowed the boot to be attached and immediately started using his right foot. He has since been seen using it to help him climb and groom himself as well.
In the last financial year, we rescued more than 330 koalas across the Northern Rivers region. Since becoming the first koala hospital in the region, our admission rates are predicted to increase beyond the carrying capacity of our current facilities. So we are beyond thrilled to have collaborated with WWF which will enable us to expand our current hospital and broader care facility to provide critical support to sick, injured and orphaned koalas.
To date we have engaged a Project Manager, David McGrath who has been working with Lismore City Council and sort advice from Currumbin Wildlife Hospital and Port Macquarie Koala Hospital to gain valuable insights into the design of the hospital buildings and care facilities.
Our new hospital will include a public education space, four ICU rooms, larger surgery and treatment rooms, a dedicated lab area and necropsy space. This expansion will not only make a huge difference to the Vet Team and volunteers who work in the space every day but will enable us to treat and rehabilitate more sick, injured and orphaned koalas on site.
Operating for over 35 years, we have an established history of working towards positive outcomes for koalas. Our profile has grown rapidly following the 2019-20 bushfire season, triggering the need to refresh the logo to better reflect our current and future direction.
Proud of our 35-year legacy, the new logo retains core features of the previous design such as the colouring and layout however, we made the koala face more recognisable by rounding the ear and changing the proportions of the eyes and nose. The new logo also incorporates the shape of a leaf to reference our work in natural resource management. The new design also highlights and improves readability of our name.
We are really excited with the change but it’s just the beginning in our evolving brand identity which will include launching a new website shortly.
This project funded by the NSW Environmental Trust, aims to strengthen partnerships with Monaltrie (south of Lismore) land managers and Landcarers with the primary aim of addressing the risks to the koalas that were abundant on these sites. Financial support from Lismore City council of $30,000, has enabled FOK to extend the corridor work on the Wilson River floodplain. The objectives of the project are to increase community capacity to better manage agricultural land for the benefit of koalas and other wildlife who are being impacted by habitat fragmentation. The wider community is being targeted through education initiatives to raise awareness and to encourage the planting of paddock trees that provide a safe refuge for koalas having to cross vast expanses of grazing land. Professional bush regenerators have been engaged to restore the conservation values of riparian vegetation & expand & strengthen Koala habitat, corridors & linkages. Restoration work will serve to strengthen species migration pathways & create fauna refuges for other species while re-establishing linear corridors that allow unrestricted movement. Woody weeds specifically Coral Tree, are being replaced with Koala food trees and other endemic lowland subtropical rainforest species, these areas are being fenced with electric fences to exclude cattle. FOK are working in partnership with nine land owners and the Ngulingah Local Aboriginal Land Council.