Endure the pain and help koalas at the same time

Competitors in last year's Wild Endurance event.
Competitors in last year's Wild Endurance event.

This year's WildEndurance team walking challenge will partner with Science for Wildlife to raise funds to track and save koalas from extinction in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

Now in its eighth year, WildEndurance is a stimulating challenge for teams of two to seven participants who will walk or run either 50kms or 100kms while experiencing first-hand the beauty and stunning scenery of the World Heritage Area.

The event track showcases the cultural and ecological values of the Blue Mountains, and passes through the homes of more than 400 different kinds of animals, such as spotted-tailed quolls, koalas, yellow-bellied gliders, long-nosed potoroos, green and gold bell frogs and the Blue Mountains water skink.

Run by The Wilderness Society, WildEndurance is open to mums, dads, families, fitness clubs, walking groups, sports teams, community groups, nature lovers, corporate teams and "bucket list" achievers.

WildEndurance will be held over the weekend of May 2-3 this year and registrations are now open online at www.wildendurance.org.au.

Koalas in NSW were recently listed as a threatened species under the Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and koala sightings in the Mountains are extremely rare.

Until late 2013, there had been no koala sightings on record in the Upper Mountains since the 1940s - nearly 70 years ago.

Across Australia koala numbers have declined dramatically because of historical hunting, loss and degradation of habitat, urban development, disease, road death and predation by dogs.

WildEndurance co-ordinator, Sarah Williams, said WildEndurance offers the opportunity for participants to push the boundaries of personal fitness and self-achievement while connecting to nature and helping overcome the decline in the koala population.

"WildEndurance is a tough physical challenge, but it is also about communities coming together to make a real difference to effect long-term change, and transform Australia into a society that protects, respects and connects with the natural world that sustains us," said Ms Williams.

"The protection of Australian wildlife is one of our main focuses and researchers at Science for Wildlife have stressed the importance of finding and assessing exactly what is left of the koala population in this area.

"But it is challenging because koalas are likely to be at a very low density and they live in very rugged

terrain, so they are trying out some new techniques like koala detection dogs.

"To assist with koala surveys and conservation, a proportion of funds from WildEndurance will go towards training koala detection dogs, GPS equipment, and koala collars for the Blue Mountains Koala Project," Ms Williams said.

Dr Kellie Leigh, from Science for Wildlife, said it was unknown how many koalas remain in NSW.

"The bushfires in the Mountains [in 2013] forced koalas to move and that resulted in sightings that gave us an indication we still have koalas in the area. But we need to find out more to protect them, so we are undertaking surveys across the region." said Dr Leigh.

"Koalas in the Blue Mountains are thought to be particularly important for conservation of the species due to high levels of genetic diversity, and the large World Heritage Area might be an important habitat refuge for other populations under pressure from climate change."

Ms Williams said WildEndurance is a rewarding personal experience.

"You can participate either as a team walker or a team sponsor - or even both. As a team walking event, you can share the experience with friends, family, workmates and colleagues," Ms Williams said.

"In the months leading into the event, you can enjoy, and be a part of, the growing team spirit and binding camaraderie as your team trains together to boost personal fitness levels and collectively aim for a personal best result.

"And when the last bead of sweat has been wiped away, there is the joyous self-gratification of knowing that you have personally contributed towards helping koalas in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

"May may seem months away, but if you wish to assist save koalas in the wild and be involved in an enjoyable, healthy and fulfilling weekend endurance walk, the journey begins now by visiting the website www.wildendurance.org.au and registering to participate."

To learn more about the Blue Mountains Koala Project, see www.scienceforwildlife.org.