It’s a bright sunny day in the Northern Rivers NSW hinterland when the volunteers from Bangalow Koalas arrive. With shovels in hand and trays full of seedlings, they’ve come to plant koala habitat trees. Thanks to donations from WWF-Australia supporters, this group of locals are working together to create a thriving koala corridor in a region that was ravaged by bushfires. And WWF-Australia Partners Nicole Warne and Victoria Lee have come to lend a hand.
“This planting is part of our Koalas Forever program, which is aiming to double koala numbers by 2050 along the east coast of Australia,” explains Tanya Pritchard, WWF-Australia’s Landscape Restoration Project Manager, who is also onsite for the day.
“This is the first of a series of plantings that we're doing under our Koalas Forever program with the community. And it's just such a great opportunity to get out and get your hands dirty and feel part of something that's really important. The goal today is to plant 1,860 koala food and habitat trees,” says Tanya.
Koalas Forever is one of WWF-Australia’s Regenerate Australia programs. And donations from supporters have made this tree planting project possible.
“Through the support of many of our volunteers from Bangalow Koalas, we’re able to work towards increasing those koala numbers in the Northern Rivers,” says Tanya. “In a few years, I hope to see a thriving forest with koalas moving freely through here, breeding and increasing in numbers and a really healthy population.”
“We couldn't do what we do without the wonderful support of people like Victoria and Nicole. It’s just so important for us to be able to have people that are really getting behind the work and spreading the word,” Tanya says.
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Inspired to protect
“This morning, I was in the Byron Bay region, planting trees for the koalas with WWF-Australia and Bangalow Koalas,” says Nicole, a passionate wildlife supporter and WWF-Australia Partner. “We’re trying to rebuild the habitat that we lost during the devastating 2020 Australian bushfires.”
Scientists estimate that 8,000 koalas were impacted by the 2019-2020 bushfire season that scorched 25% of koala habitat in eastern NSW. And up to 85% of the NSW Northern Rivers koala population alone was killed. Coupled with rampant land clearing and disease, koalas are under immense pressure.
But Nicole says she has never been more inspired after seeing the efforts of the community first-hand. “The experience this morning with Bangalow Koalas was incredible,” she says. “I think like many Australians during the bushfires, you feel quite helpless.
And so, to be able to do something tactile with my hands, to see the community come together and support such an important cause was inspiring.”
“Hopefully, we inspire people at home to get involved with these community events. We have thousands of trees to plant, and they're not going to plant themselves,” she says.
The partnership with WWF-Australia will see 100,000 trees planted over the next three years. And ultimately, the long-term goal of Bangalow Koalas is to create a wildlife corridor to form linkages between habitat west and south across the Northern Rivers. This will mean that koalas will have safe passage across a huge landscape.
Wildlife hospitals at work
Nicole and Victoria also visited a koala hospital in nearby Lismore, which is run by Friends of the Koala. With a 24 hour hotline, this volunteer group rescues around 50% of the sick, injured and orphaned koalas rescued in NSW. And with 150 active volunteers, the ongoing survival of this endangered species is an issue that sits close to their heart.
A new extension planned for the hospital will boost the capacity of volunteers and veterinary staff to care for sick and injured koalas. And it’s all thanks to WWF-Australia supporters who have directly helped fund this vital work.
“We've had a tour of the clinic,” says Victoria. “We met some koalas that are in care and witnessed the vet staff completing a health check on a koala joey, which was amazing. And we've just been learning about the incredible work that Friends of the Koala do in terms of rehabilitation.”
“The work that WWF-Australia does is so important to me because I grew up in a small country town, and I was surrounded by nature throughout my entire childhood. And I grew up with a real sense of appreciation and love for that,” Victoria says.
And for Nicole, her visit to the wildlife hospital has left a lasting impact. “I got really emotional. I started getting teary because you really see they’re so vulnerable. They're so helpless, and seeing that up close and personal, I've never had an experience like that before.”
Koalas can be in rehabilitation anywhere from a couple of hours to several months, depending on the case. And while they’re in care, koalas are monitored daily and receive specialised veterinary treatment. The extension to the hospital means that many more koalas can be cared for and returned to the wild.
Ambitious goal to double koala numbers
While our koala volunteers might consider themselves ordinary people, they’re doing extraordinary things on the front line of Australia’s extinction crisis. It’s part of a monumental effort to turn the future around for koalas. And Nicole and Victoria are putting the call out for everyone to get behind these programs in a bid to increase koala numbers.
“There are so many ways people can help and get involved – educating yourself and others, planting trees, or volunteering at your local wildlife rehabilitation centre,” says Nicole. “WWF-Australia is doing so many amazing things with its Koalas Forever and Regenerate Australia campaigns, with the main goal of doubling the number of koalas across eastern Australia by 2050. So let’s get to that!”
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