Every April the Narrandera Koala Regeneration Committee and the National Parks and Wildlife Service organise Narrandera’s Annual Koala Count. I was told recently that this is one of the longest-running citizen science wildlife monitoring programs in Australia (or maybe just the longest-running koala-specific one – possibly both, I’m not sure). I don’t remember how long it’s been going, but I think somewhere around 20 or 25 years.
Last year, sadly, it was rained out, which prompted the organisers this year to make sure an alternate date was set in advance, in case the same thing happened. Happily it was unneeded, and the koala count went ahead as planned, last weekend.
Like many areas across Australia, Narrandera’s koala population was wiped out sometime in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but unlike most areas they were re-introduced in the 1970s, and the current population has grown up from those re-introduced individuals. I have been told that a few more individuals were unofficially introduced (read: smuggled in someone’s car) at some point, but I have no idea if that’s true.
Current estimates of the total size of the koala population in and around Narrandera vary from 200 to 400, but I’m not sure how those figures are calculated exactly. I assume the National Parks folks have some sort of guidelines for extrapolating from numbers spotted in an area of known size, based on koala population dynamics, to get an estimate of how many there might be across the total area.
I do know that the Narrandera population is a) one of the healthiest (ie disease-free) koala populations in Australia, and b) the only one in the Riverina – although people do sometimes mention the odd sighting in other towns along the river. It’s also not well publicised, to the point where visitors to the town often don’t even know there are koalas present, and as I just discovered, they’re not even mentioned on the town’s Wikipedia page, which is kind of terrible.
One of the reasons for the annual count is to get an idea of how many koalas are present (again, see assumptions about extrapolating from known data, because there’s no way every koala present in that reserve was spotted last weekend). Another reason is to keep tabs on the health of the koalas, by visually checking for signs of disease. Being so isolated from other populations actually works quite well as a quarantine measure for keeping diseases out, although some members of the regeneration committee have raised the question of potential risk from inbreeding and a lack of genetic diversity. It would be interesting to have a genetic study of the population done, but I doubt anyone would be able to fund something like that for pure curiosity’s sake.
This year’s count had 157 volunteers taking part, some of them locals, many of them from across the broader region, and I met a couple of young women from Sydney and a man from the United States – although I will be generous and assume they were there because they happened to be visiting local relatives at the right time, rather than that they travelled all that way for the express purpose of going koala counting. 🙂
The group I was with found three koalas, and overall 30 were counted within the 2 hours of the activity. I went looking for the marked trees afterward, and got photos of some of the koalas found by other groups, as well as my own.
And now, on to the pictures!
I also popped down to have a look at the river – it’s a bit low at the moment (it’s regulated, like all the major rivers I know, so height of flow doesn’t always reflect upstream weather patterns).