Wildlife Queensland and Logan City Council present: Are You Koalafied?

Are you Koalafied?
29 October 2021

Thank you to all those who attended the ‘Are You Koalafied?’ workshop. You’re all now fully ‘koalafied’ and we’re sure you learned a lot about Australia’s arboreal ambassadors: koalas.

Below you’ll find:

  • a link to the full webinar recording
  • additional Q&As not recorded in the webinar.

About the event

Logan City Council and Wildlife Queensland teamed up to bring you this popular Talking Wildlife webinar, and we would like to thank Dr Sean Fitzgibbon for being our guest presenter. The expert tips contained in this webinar will help you find and identify koalas and prepare for the Logan City Council Koala Count in November 2021 or for citizen science surveys throughout Queensland during koala mating season.

Presenters: Matt Cecil (Wildlife Queensland) and Dr Sean FitzGibbon (University of Queensland)

Webinar recording

Watch the full video recording on YouTube here.

Questions and answers

Read our list of Q&As below.

What sound do koalas make?
What is the minimum age for a viable young to survive?

All marsupial babies are highly altricial at birth, which means they’re birthed in a very underdeveloped state (just jelly-bean sized, hairless and blind) so they need a lot of care and feeding from mum. Koala joeys enjoy an extended period of maternal care, latching on and suckling in the pouch for at least 6 months. Having said that, Sean and his partner, wildlife vet Amber Gillett, have seen some very young, hairless joeys survive with the right animal husbandry about being taken into care, so if you find a deceased female koala, please do check the pouch for young and alert the RSPCA (1300 264 265) or Wildcare (07 5527 2444).

In the wild, koala joeys start to move out of the pouch from around 6 months and begin eating their mother’s faecal pap (soft, mushy poo that contains gut bacteria). Pap readies their gut and caecum for the difficult task of digesting gum leaves, which they start to add to their diet thereafter. Once they leave the pouch, they may ride on mum’s back until around 1 year of age, when they’re big enough to start seeking territory of their own.

I recently learned that koalas will feed on mistletoe. Do they feed on all species of these plants or only particular ones?

Koalas have been spotted in mistletoe, but it is doubtful whether it makes up a regular food source. Koalas do occasionally munch on species other than Corymbia, Angophora, Lophostemon or Eucalyptus, so while the leaves, fruit and berries of Australia’s ~90 native mistletoe species might occasionally be consumed, mistletoe, like camphor laurel, probably does not make up a large part of a koala’s diet.

Can you detect koalas from smell? Do they have a strong urine or eucalyptus smell?

Koalas emit a musky eucalyptus fragrance that is much more pungent in males than females. Males have a well-developed, brown-stained sternal gland that is very active during the breeding season, when they can get up quite a pong.

I have heard that types of scratches found at the lower part of tree are from koalas. How do you know if it is from a koala? How can you tell koala scratching from possum? Do you have photos/images?

It is difficult to detect the presence of a koala from ‘secondary signs’ such as scratches unless there is other evidence of their presence, such as scats or sightings. Other clawed tree-climbing species such as goannas, possums and gliders also leave marks on smooth-barked gums. Koalas tend to make deeper incisions in the first 2–3 m close to the ground. You may see two deep, parallel scratches running on either side of a trunk. For more information about interpreting secondary signs, we recommend What Scat is That? Or Barbara Triggs’s classic book Tracks, Scats and Other Traces.

Are thermal cameras used much?

Good question. Mostly, research has involved telemetric monitoring using radio collars or tags. Detection dogs have also been a great, relatively new addition to a suite of tools used to find and follow individual koalas. But thermal detection is a useful tool, and detection of koalas by drone at night can provide valuable data. This could be particularly useful during catastrophic stochastic events such as bushfires or drought.

I sometimes see a koala being mobbed by birds, especially noisy miners. Do other species of birds mob koalas? Are there known incidents of koalas being injured by this mobbing?

Like most animals that wander into magpie territory during nesting season, koalas probably have occasional run-ins with territorial avian species including magpies, noisy miners, lapwings, probably kookaburras and corvids at times, and, of course, owls and raptors. Raptors and powerful owls are known natural predators of joeys and may try to swoop down on and carry off back young.

There are certainly recorded incidents of injuries to koalas resulting from magpies. A 2009 observational article also recorded an example of a NSW koala being mobbed by white-winged chough (Corcorax melanorhamphos) and blue-faced honeyeaters (Entomyzon cyanotis). Ultimately, if a koala is in a position to be mobbed by birds, it is probably on the ground or exposed; in such cases, it would be best to report the sighting to the RSPCA or Wildcare. Call the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 265) or Wildcare on 07 5527 2444. They operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I’m always concerned about E. coli bacteria. Are there any Zoonotic diseases that can be passed on from koala to human?

It’s always sensible to take precautions against exposing yourself to E.coli when in the field. There don’t appear to be any zoonotic disease from koalas, although a nasty koala scratch or bite could easily become infected from bacteria in saliva or trapped beneath the claws. Koalas are best handled only by experienced vets, carers or researchers who take care not to fall foul of their strong teeth and sharp claws. As Matt says, ‘Koalas are sharp – don’t touch them.’ They look cute and cuddly, but they’re actually surprisingly strong and can be quite hostile and aggressive when they feel unsafe or threatened.

Do koala scats smell like eucalyptus?

Koala scats are not particularly smelly, as far as scats go. Koalas produce hundreds of smallish (about the size of an olive) scats a day, depositing much more in a single spot than possums or kangaroos. Koala poop has a khaki to dark greenish colour when fresh, ageing to brownish red, and the contents appear very finely ‘milled’ when broken open. Fresh scats will have a slight gum-drop scent.

During a wildlife rescue call, a farmer told me she often sees cows attacking koalas that cross her paddocks. Is this a common thing and is it possible that cows mistake koalas for dogs?

Yes, there have been numerous reports from wildlife carers and veterinarians of koalas being injured after attacks by cows. Koalas are related to wombats and both species can look quite dog-like when moving quadrupedally on the ground. Koalas are cumbersome out of the treetops, so most would find it difficult to escape a cow in a situation where paddock trees are scarce. If you do see a koala that appears isolated in a paddock tree surrounded by livestock, please do report the sighting to the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 265) or Wildcare on 07 5527 2444.

Is the council using conservation detection dogs to find injured koalas after bushfires?

Conservation detection dog teams, such as those used by Russell Miller and Romane Cristescu from USC Detection Dogs for Conservation and Amanda Hancock from Carnarvon Canines, have been employed to help recover injured koalas across Australia, particularly following the tragic bushfires of 2019–2020. Dogs are very effective at sniffing out the scat or presence of wildlife – much more skilled than even experienced wildlife spotters. In 2014, Logan City Council enlisted conservation dogs to sniff out koala scats. Detection dogs can traverse vast distances. Maya covered some 400 ha in just two weeks and the results of the searches were uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia, which iNaturalist feeds into. In 2019 and 2020, Logan and Wildlife Queensland’s Quoll Seeker’s Network added quolls to the list of species searched using this method in the Logan City Council area.

Thank you so much for this! I am not in the Logan area, but I have mapped approximately 170 koalas around Nebo (west of Mackay), and I’m wondering if there are any resources about their favoured trees in this area? I would love to learn to recognise the main trees they are in, so I can add this information to my mapping records. Thank you!

Wow, that’s an excellent effort. Well done. We love this short guide for planting koala food trees in South East Queensland. Koala Action Inc also has some good ‘food tree’ information on their site. Northern koalas around Mackay are known to have a strong reliance on forest red gum (E. tereticornis), narrow-leaved ironbark (E. crebra) and Queensland grey ironbark (E. drepanophylla). However, as Sean mentioned, koalas also visit non-food trees and even weed trees from time to time. Don’t discount non-food tree species when you’re looking for koalas. Rather than thinking solely about feed trees, we need to consider a lot of tree species as ‘koala use tree’. These cryptic critters like to hide in some trees you might not expect; for instance, although they don’t appear to eat turpentine leaves, they are regularly found sheltering in them when the weather is hot.

Is anyone studying the social behaviour of females?

Funny you should ask! Sean and his team at the University of Queensland have noticed that koalas interact a lot more than you might think for what is regarded as a largely solitary species. Telemetry has revealed that females encounter each other frequently and may even seek out encounters and switch joeys from time to time. Maybe they’re babysitting after a hard night on the eucalyptus! It is true that more research is required into koala behaviour in the wild, which is a fascinating part of koala ecology.

Re koala crossings, if we know they don't use the bridges, have we looked at where they cross and investigated the area of using a drain culvert for a safe koala crossing?

Yes, koalas have been recorded using drain culverts. Unfortunately, koalas are very vulnerable when on the ground, particularly to attack by dogs, so while koalas don’t use rope bridges, it is hoped they might use above-ground solutions, like the climbing poles in Sean’s presentation. Culverts are something of a solution to road crossing and vehicle strikes, but we think there is probably a better solution for koalas.

Regarding roadkill, are you looking at black zones where koalas are found killed and is there a need to put in a koala crossing, because the signs saying Koalas cross here don't seem to work — Koalas don't read!

Yes, that is a problem. If only we could teach them how! Data suggests that wildlife signs do play a role in altering the behaviour of motorists, however, particularly if the sign includes a cute image of a koala and a speed monitor. More recently, research into AI algorithms that assess traffic information to reduce wildlife–vehicle collision by automated warning systems or signs are showing promise. Ideally, we need to refrain from putting roads through prime habitat in the first place or expanding or widening existing roads, because fragmentation is a threatening process for koalas and many other native species. Where roads exist, authorities do need to look at overpasses, culverts, poles, warning signs, virtual fences or other methods to ensure wildlife can cross safely and that roads don’t prevent movement between populations.

Do they interact with other species, like gliders?

It’s likely they do encounter each other often in the treetops, although perhaps only superficially since koalas don’t compete with possums or gliders for tree hollows. Koalas and greater gliders share similar dietary preferences and habitats, so their ranges may overlap.

In your experience have you seen whether koalas use trees that have weedy shrubs covering the trunk?

Invasive weeds cause many environmental issues, including habitat alteration and the reduction of competing native flora that provides food and habitat for wildlife. Where weeds flourish as the base of koala home trees or food trees, they probably act as something of a deterrent, but more needs to be done to assess this risk in koala habitats as koalas are also known to use some weed tree species.

Are other animals eating koalas more now that the bush is depleted? E.g. A bird of prey taking a baby joey was seen out here near Toowoomba.

The more exposed koalas are, the easier they are to prey upon. Wedge-tailed eagles and powerful owls are known predators of joeys, and in denuded or post-fire landscapes, koalas would be more vulnerable to attack.

Did they get chlamydia from us?

Chlamydia (Chlamydia pecorum) is a sexually transmitted disease in humans and animals; however, many zoonotic diseases have both wild and human strains. Research shows that koalas and sheep both contract the same genetic strain of chlamydia, so it is more likely that the introduction of livestock to Australia during European settlement also introduced this pathogen.

Where the land is cleared and there are koalas currently living there, how will they be saved? Can they be relocated or gradually transitioned to a new area?

Translocations are possible, but the statistics around translocations are not very encouraging. When fragmentation or habitat clearing is the issue, by far the best outcome for koalas is a simple — although sometimes inconvenient — one: stop clearing the habitat. In southern states or island habitats such as Kangaroo Island where koala populations can outgrow the available food trees, translocations are a tool to reduce environmental strain and disperse individuals without the need for harsher population control. However, translocations may also increase the spread of diseases such as chlamydia. Koalas also prefer cooler ambient temperatures and, as Sean mentioned, their gut biota is closely linked to food tree availability within their territory, which can make translocation tricky. Ongoing monitoring of any translocated koalas is required. Koalas also prefer cooler ambient temperatures and may struggle to maintain their body temperature in very hot weather, which is thought to limit their distribution in the north of the state. Climate change may force northern populations more southerly as temperatures rise, so temperature, as well as gene flow between subspecies, may be another factor in choosing suitable places to translocate koalas.

For more information about koalas, particularly in Logan, please visit https://www.logan.qld.gov.au/koala

What is being done to help save koalas?

Conservation groups, residents and councils are committed to protecting koalas, but to do that, we need to know where they are and to account for localised pressures that drive down koala numbers. One of the best ways to help koalas quickly is to get landholders and citizens involved in koala counts and surveys that provide hard data about when and where koalas are present, such as the Logan City Koala Count.

We hope this webinar will not only attract koala enthusiasts who wish to find, observe and photograph these adorable marsupials but also appeal to landholders who are keen to survey for koalas on their own properties and to discover ways to attract and protect koalas throughout their region.

Koalas need your involvement

Citizens can provide valuable research that adds to the knowledge scientists like Dr. FitzGibbon at the University of Queensland use when studying koala ecology and how habitat fragmentation, disease (particularly Chlamydia) and climate change will impact long-term population dynamics.

Statewide and local conservation groups including Wildlife Queensland’s Scenic Rim Branch and the Logan Valley Koala Project are also keen to work with residents to increase community understanding of koalas and figure out how these marsupials use special shelter trees on private property and how we can allow for safer movement between Crown land in national parks and reserves and private land.

Nationwide groups, such as the Australian Koala Foundation, continue to advocate for greater federal protection for this species, which is currently listed as vulnerable only in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT.

Closer to home, councils such as Logan City Council aim to mitigate threats and increase koala populations through better planning, such as The City of Logan Koala Conservation Strategic Plan 2013–2023. Logan City Council has also set aside specific tracts of land for koala conservation, including a 212-hectare property at Greenbank in February 2021, and offer a range of incentives through their Environmental Conservation Partnerships program, which supports private landholders in conserving and enhancing wildlife habitat. This includes grants for weed control and revegetation activities, tips on responsible pet ownership, information on wildlife-friendly fencing, and koala awareness campaigns such as this webinar and the Logan City Koala Count on iNaturalist in November 2021.

You might also like to share a link to this page with family and friends throughout South East Queensland, particularly within the Logan Local Government Area.

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