I travelled more than 800 kms from Sydney to Bangalow to meet with Linda Sparrow, the president of Bangalow Koalas and the army of volunteers working tirelessly to protect koalas.
When most people think of Australia, they think of the unique wildlife, and the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) with its fluffy ears and spoon shaped nose is one of these iconic species. Despite this international recognition, koalas are facing multiple threats to their survival.
Koalas have adapted to living in trees and are threatened by deforestation. Deforestation in the states of New South Wales and Queensland where the majority of koalas are found spiked at ~20,000 ha in 2016-17. After a long drought and rising temperatures Australia experienced the worst wildfires on record in summer 2019-2020 with 17 million hectares burnt. An estimated 61,000 koalas were either injured or killed and one third of the entire population along the east coast of Australia was wiped out.
Bangalow Koalas is a volunteer run organisation established in 2016 to protect koalas through the creation of Koala Wildlife Corridors. They focus on educating and empowering local communities in replanting, protecting, and expanding habitat for koalas and other wildlife. This is an important way to coexist with wildlife in a peaceful and positive way.
I got my hands dirty planting habitat for koalas and other species. We planted about 3,000 different species of trees such as Eucalyptus and Casuarina on a private property, as 90% of koalas live on privately owned lands. The soil was rich and fertile, and I blessed each tree that I planted that it would grow big and strong to safeguard the next generations of koalas and local people. I was surrounded by many passionate volunteers, professional bush regenerators and Minyuamai rangers from the local Bundjalung Nation. One of the volunteers was 80 years old which shows that you are never too old to lend a hand for wildlife.
On that day a big milestone was achieved with the 100,000th trees planted since 2018. We celebrated this milestone with a group picture. This planting provides an important connection between two remnant forest parches, helping provide a safe area for koalas to disperse.
I learned a cool new fact about koalas on this day: they can swim across rivers, which added to my awe and appreciation of this unique mammal. The biggest threat to wildlife is loss of habitat and this incredibly positive community initiative aims to reduce that threat. The trees provide many ecosystem services such as shade, temperature regulation, carbon storage, peace, beauty, and genetic diversity. I can’t wait to these trees mature into a beautiful forest full of diverse wildlife!
The International Wildlife Coexistence Network is dedicated to raising the profile of inspiring conservation projects that benefit communities, the environment, and wildlife.