5 May 2024

Drones find koalas in natural Eurobodalla habitat after three-year absence

| Sally Hopman
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Two men holding up certificates

Keith Joliffe, right, with fellow volunteer Charlie Bell at the launch of the Eurobodalla Koala Recovery Strategy at Broulee. Photo: Supplied.

For the first time in about as many years, three koalas have just been spotted in their natural habitat in the Eurobodalla Shire.

Two were found in Kooraban National Park, in the Dignams Creek area, where it straddles the Eurobodalla and Bega shire border, with the third found in the Bodalla State Forest, not far from the new Eurobodalla dam.

All three were found by drones which were funded for the project through a Commonwealth Government grant.

For Keith Joliffe, delegate for the Coastwatchers Association which started the Eurobodalla Koala Project, the discovery of the three koalas was “a very exciting find”.

“We were lucky to get the grant which allowed drones to be used to survey the area,” he said.

“The first two the drones found were in an area of low density koala population for some time, so we were very happy to find them there. It reinforces the work the south-east NSW strategy team is doing in Bega.”

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Mr Joliffe said the drones first picked up the two as thermal images, after flying two patches of about 45 hectares to 60 hectares. They were able to fly in close enough to take photographs.

“They were all spotted high up in the tree canopy at night, with the photographs showing them looking at the light of the drones.”

The third marsupial was spotted in the southern part of the shire which, Mr Joliffe said, was in the past a known koala habitat.

“But to find this one there reinforces our suspicions that there are still koalas there – even after the 2020 fires,” he said.

“Koalas in the Eurobodalla are in extremely low numbers. We didn’t find any with the drones in the Shoalhaven, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not there.”

Koala in tree

One of the koalas photographed by the drone in the Eurobodalla. Photo: Coastwatchers Association.

Information about the find, including the drone reports, will be made available and shared with all the stakeholders, including National Parks, the local Aboriginal Land Council, Bega and Eurobodalla shires and the private property owners whose land is adjacent to the national parks. It will also form the basis of creating potential habitat models.

Mr Joliffe, a former teacher and Education Department official in Canberra, plans to retire from the koala group in September after a decade of volunteering. But he said the recent find gave him hope for the future of koalas.

“The job is not finished,” he said. “It needs a better than business as usual landscape.

“They are still under a lot of pressure from constantly encroaching human activity as well as climate change,” he said. “That is why this finding is really important because it is the first time we have had enough money to get drones in.”

In the past, they had to rely on reports from community members and then volunteers would go out to search under trees for scats (koala poo). This would then be sent on to the Australian National University to confirm it came from koalas and not another native animal.

People who see koalas in the wild are asked to report their findings to I Spy Koala here.

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