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Koalas alive and well in Kiwarrak after Hillville fire

The Forestry Corporation has rejected reports suggesting that there has been a 100% decline in koalas in the Kiwarrak area due to the Hillville fire. Source: Timberbiz

Forestry Corporation says it has confirmed so far eight healthy koalas have been found during surveys following the wildfire in the Kiwarrak State Forest, with further comprehensive surveys still underway.

Senior Ecologist Chris Slade said the koalas had been observed in Kiwarrak State Forest during targeted searches immediately following the fires in collaboration with local wildlife care groups.

“Kiwarrak State Forest was impacted by the Hillville fire in November 2019. As soon as the immediate fire threat passed, we took a range of steps to support impacted wildlife including adding water points and undertaking koala surveys with sniffer dogs,” Mr Slade said.

Between late November and early December, Forestry Corporation spent five days carrying out searches with koala detection dogs, finding six koalas and collecting multiple pellets, indicating more koalas were present. Further koala sightings and pellet records have also been detected in surveys over the past three months.

A motion detection camera, known as a “critter cam” installed above a wildlife drinking station, snapped one koala.

“The survey results show that koalas are still living in fire affected areas. The results also show that it helps to use multiple survey methods to detect koalas, which can be very hard to spot in the tree tops,” Mr Slade said.

Bronwyn Ellis, Forestry Corporation Ecologist for the Taree area, has been working closely with Koalas in Care, who assessed photos of each of the individual koalas found in the forest to advise of any care needs. Encouragingly, all the koalas spotted appeared to be uninjured and not in need of care when assessed.

“Koalas are a solitary species with a large home range, and it is not unusual for one koala to occupy up to fifty hectares, so to find eight koalas so far in this forest following the fires was extremely encouraging and heart-warming,” Ms Ellis said.

Mr Slade said Forestry Corporation was carrying out a comprehensive landscape-scale assessment of koala occupancy in the north coast’s State forests in collaboration with the NSW Department of Primary Industries Forest Research Branch (DPI Forestry).

“This assessment uses call-detection technology, which has been successfully used since 2015 to carry out a landscape-scale assessment of koalas by recording the bellows of koalas during mating season. Surveys for this program are due to commence again this spring,” Mr Slade said.

The Kiwarrak State Forest near Taree is managed by Forestry Corporation for sustainable timber production as well as conservation and public recreation.