Port Macquarie Koala Hospital update

For the first time, we would like share with our dear readers the extensive work that this little Port Macquarie Koala Hospital is involved in. While reading, please keep in mind that we are a volunteer based organisation, which is funded via donations of time and money by our local and global community.

Port Macquarie locals know that we are available for advice on koalas, or to rescue koalas 24 hours a day and every day of the year! We examine and treat all koala patients from our local area, and from other licenced areas. We take koala patients from south of Sydney, as far north as Lismore, and as far west as Moree and down to Dubbo. We are also asked by NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to examine and write reports on koalas from other locations in NSW when issues arise.

As well as rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing wild koalas, scientific research is an important component of the Koala Hospital. We are collaborators on, and collect samples for, numerous research projects for University Sydney, Federation University, Murdoch University, University of Sunshine Coast and the Centre for Wildlife Genomics at the Australian Museum. We are currently co-authors on 12 published papers accepted into various scientific journals. We also contribute by offering considerable funding to crucial research projects at Sydney University, which are of significant importance to wild koala populations Australia-wide.

Our varied projects include studies on diseases that affect koalas, drug efficacy, koala population dynamics, distribution and behavior. We share our knowledge through our Koalaseum (adjoining the Hospital), media, literature, and through our educational programs with schools, zoos, businesses, organisations and directly to the public. We also collaborate on many levels with local, state and federal government agencies; fellow Australian wildlife rehabilitation organisations; and museums.

We work very closely with the Port Macquarie Hastings Council (PMHC) and have done so for a number of years. In conjunction with PMHC, a “Koala App” has been developed using a specific program that records all sightings and admissions of koalas and currently holds the last 44 years’ worth of koala data for our local government area (LGA). This App also captures important management data such as dog attack, motor vehicle and disease statistics which are used for development planning purposes.

The data in this App corresponds to a comprehensive clinical data base that PMHC has been developing free of charge for us over the past two years. The normal admission data is entered, and we also include ultrasound measurements, radiography, pathology and post mortem reports. This data base will shortly be available free of charge to all wildlife rehabilitation groups working with koalas, and the App will be available to other government agencies in the near future. It is important to note that all of this data is crucial to the ongoing research and management of wild koala populations.

We are currently working on a new research project, observing health status and population dynamics in our semi-urban koala population. We captured koalas at three sites in our LGA, screened them under anaesthesia, then fitted radio collars on them, and are following their movements for the next year. We currently have eight koalas collared and being tracked.

PMHC and the Koala Hospital have developed a pilot training program where specially trained dog trainers are being employed to teach problem dogs who have injured or killed koalas to be retrained to leave koalas alone.  If this pilot study works which we believe it will, it will be extended to training puppies at puppy schools to ignore koalas.  We are hoping this will work and can be extended to protect other species of wildlife as well.

We will be commencing another project early in 2018 with Forestry Corporation NSW, which will have a similar objective. That is to capture, health screen and radio track a population of koalas with state forests to ascertain their viability in logged forests. This project will be conducted in conjunction with Department of Primary Industries using acoustic surveying technology.

We are also a recognised training organisation for wild koala rehabilitation. We are the contracted koala training facility for WIRES NSW, and we facilitate workshops throughout NSW, Victoria and S.A to other wildlife groups and vets.  We teach veterinarians, vet nurses, zookeepers, ecologists and undergraduate students capture and handling techniques of wild koalas; and also advise veterinarians on treatments, sonography and post mortem techniques.

We sell our Koala Rehabilitation Manual (200 page) throughout Australia, which is now in its 4th edition. This manual is used as part of our training package, and is the most comprehensive koala rehabilitation manual in Australia.

In June this year we hosted the National Koala Conference here in Port Macquarie. This was the second national conference we have hosted, and we will host a third in two years’ time.

Our Education Coordinator heads a large team of tour guides and educators who visit schools and organisations to discuss koala habits and issues, including life history, population dynamics, stressors and ways that the public can assist us with conservation.

The Koala Hospital’s Cheyne Flanagan sits on a koala expert panel for the NSW government, and also sits on three local government expert panels advising on matters concerning wild koalas. We make comment and present many submissions to the NSW and Federal government on various wild koala matters. Some of the panels include: Expert Panel for Species Recovery – Koalas under the Save our Species Program, NSW State Government – Office of Environment and Heritage, Sydney; Expert Panel for Koala Management – Port Macquarie Hastings Council; Expert Panel Biodiversity – Port Macquarie Hastings Council; and the Expert Panel – Fire Management of Koala habitat – Mid North Coast – which includes various agencies such as PMHC, RFS, Forestry Commission, OEH, and Birpai Land council.

We are heavily involved in a huge issue with koalas in the Blue Gum Plantations of western Victoria. Interestingly, the current estimate of the koala population in these plantations is likely to be a minimum of 200,000 koalas. 

The Koala Hospital has planted thousands of trees for over 40 years, up and down the mid north coast of NSW. We have done mass plantings in Kempsey and other nearby areas.  We work very closely with PMHC, Landcare, Forestry Corporation NSW and private landowners in planting tube stock all over our LGA.  We grow and sell (for a minimal cost) tube stock of known koala food trees.  We have recently given away 500 tube stock plants to the public, as part of the Planet Ark National Tree Day…it was Tree Month for us!

The Koala Hospital purchased a 265 acre property on Maria River Road two years ago, as a mix of conservation habitat and to start up a koala food tree plantation.  Currently the hospital has around 4,000 koala food trees growing. The intention is that all leaf harvesting for feeding the Koala Hospital patients will come from this site. We also hope to make this browse available to other zoos when required.

We appreciate the amazing support that we receive from our local community, who aid us greatly with the local koala populations by reporting sightings to us and assisting with rescues. We are grateful for our national and international visitors who support us with donations, adoptions, and by spreading the word of our significant work. We are thankful for the positive and helpful feedback that we receive in the media and on TripAdvisor…please contribute with more of these reviews to help boost our global image.

Thank you so much