A koala has been spotted this week at Govetts Leap Lookout in Blackheath –one of only a handful of sightings in the Mountains in the last 70 years.
Dr Kellie Leigh, from the not-for-profit organisation Science for Wildlife, is mapping koalas in and around the Mountains and said it was great news.
“This is the first in Blackheath up on the plateau, and unlike after the big bushfires when we saw a few koalas turn up in unusual places, there is no obvious cause to this sighting apart from the fact it is koala mating season and that’s a great high point to bellow from,” Dr Leigh said.
“Our research has indicated there’s a growing population of koalas in the Blue Mountains region, with koalas regularly popping up this year where they have not been recorded for decades.”
Dr Leigh said earlier this year there were koala sightings in Little Hartley and western Sydney, while during the 2013 bushfires koalas appeared on the edges of urban areas, including three koalas coming out of the bush to sit in buckets of water near the Springwood fire. A koala was also spotted that same year crossing the Great Western Highway near Wentworth Falls, the first record of a koala in the Upper Blue Mountains since the 1940s.
She called it “exciting and very positive news for koalas, that the protected areas might support a large and widely dispersed koala population”.
But she was quick to add that Blackheath was not likely to be a regular viewing spot.
“I don't think Govetts is going to become a regular koala viewing point, koalas are too hard to see in the thick forests of the Blue Mountains. But it has confirmed they might be living in that area and out in the Grose Valley, which we didn’t know before.”
The koala’s antics were recorded by Science for Wildlife volunteers Cale Brown and Any Davis.
A few years ago Dr Leigh said many locals would have believed there were no longer any koalas in the Mountains.
Dr Leigh said although koalas are not normally seen on the high altitude ridgelines in the Mountains, they used to be abundant in some of the valleys either side. There are historical records advertising koala hunting opportunities in the Megalong Valley, back in the days of the koala fur trade.
Koalas in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury had the highest level of genetic diversity in the country, out of 22 populations sampled from South Australia up to Queensland in a joint study led by the University of Sydney together with researchers from Science for Wildlife, San Diego Zoo Global and James Cook University.
Their recent report said: “The Blue Mountains (koala) population appears to hold much of the genetic diversity of the species… Subsequently, although it is important to preserve all populations of koalas, this region should be highlighted for future study if we are seeking to preserve existing diversity for the entire species.”
Dr Leigh said there had been a recent report (from WWF-Australia and the Nature Conservation Council) predicting extinction of koalas by 2050, “but if we know they are doing well inside protected areas that totally changes the picture”.
“If you live in the area keep your eyes and ears open and report your sightings to us,” Dr Leigh said.
Koala sightings can be reported to this website: http://scienceforwildlife.org/how-to-help/join-our-koala-project/
Dr Leigh said public reporting of wildlife sightings played a crucial role with koalas in NSW now federally listed as vulnerable to extinction.
“Koalas are picky eaters and adapt to their local habitats, so if we’re going to hang on to this iconic species we need to find and conserve all the surviving koala populations,’’ Dr Leigh said.
Blue Mountains Conservation Society president Madia Maclean said there has always been a clash between koalas and humans as they prefer the leaves on trees that grow in the more fertile soils that we have cleared and use for agriculture and settlement.
The Greater Blue Mountains would continue to be “a vital refuge” as the “increasing impacts of climate change and the ever spreading development of Sydney and other urban areas threaten them,” Ms Maclean said.