Helping provide taste of home for Blue Mountains' koalas who escaped bushfires

Twelve koalas from the Blue Mountains are recovering at Taronga Zoo after being rescued from bushfires before Christmas.

Blue Mountains City Council is assisting Science for Wildlife to supply local leaves for the koalas that are currently in care at the zoo.

he Blue Mountains' koalas have taken refuge at Taronga Zoo.

he Blue Mountains' koalas have taken refuge at Taronga Zoo.

The koalas were successfully evacuated from the Black Range area in the Kanangra-Boyd National Park by Science for Wildlife on 14-15 December 14-15 and transported by their volunteers to Taronga Zoo, just before their habitat was destroyed. The koalas were being radio-tracked by Science for Wildlife as part of a study, which enabled them to find the koalas quickly and rescue them within the short time window where it was safe to go in before the approaching fire.

Audits of the area are currently being undertaken in collaboration with National Parks and Wildlife, to determine when koalas could be moved back to nearby habitat that was spared by the fires. In the meantime, council is helping care for the koalas by assisting in the harvest of the feed they need from council-owned reserves.

Council's Natural Area Management program leader Eric Mahony said: "The koalas have settled in at Taronga Park where they are being housed until it is safe for them to return to their home.

"The biggest challenge they have is providing enough browse to feed them. Taronga Zoo can supply some but they have their own koalas to provide for, so Science for Wildlife has been collecting half of the browse for them since they went into care.

"Koalas are notoriously picky eaters. Not only is their diet restricted to a limited number of eucalypts, they are also extremely particular about which leaves of those trees they will dine on."

The permission to collect feed from some of council's bushland reserves is following the same approval process as seed collection approvals for community nurseries.

"Collections are occurring at a number of locations, which limits the amount that is taken from each area so as to share this impact across a bigger landscape," Mr Mahony said.

Science for Wildlife, run by Dr Kellie Leigh, has been researching koalas in the Blue Mountains for five years.

In addition to leading the evacuation of koalas from the Blue Mountains, as part of the bushfire emergency response, they have been deploying water stations for koalas and other threatened species, as well as food drops since the bushfires.

Science for Wildlife researchers, supported by San Diego Zoo Global, are also using the talents of a specially trained dog named Smudge to follow the scent of koalas who have survived in the areas affected by bush fires in the Blue Mountains.

"We don't know how much wildlife is left in the wake of these fires," said Dr Leigh. "However, we are getting reports of koalas turning up in new locations; they are on the move due to the fires. There are likely to be unburnt patches of native habitat that would provide refuges for koalas and a range of other threatened species.

"We need to find out where koalas might have survived, and work out how many we have left-to guide search and rescue efforts, and also to plan longer term for helping koala populations to recover," Dr Leigh added.

Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill said he was "deeply proud of our council's involvement in this".

"I thank our staff from the bottom of my heart and I am glad our council is playing a role in the long journey ahead for our environment and our wildlife after these fires," he said.

For more information on the Science for Wildlife program go to www.scienceforwildlife.org or follow their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ScienceForWildlife/.