In late August 2023, we were on track to plant our 30,000th koala tree for the season, as part of our revegetation plan for the rivers of central western Victoria.
As we were setting up in the crisp cool of a winter’s morning, I did a quick video pan of the Russells Bridge site on my phone – just as a reminder of this most special day. As my phone came around to a big River Red Gum tree on the riverbank, I sighted the unmistakeable outline of a koala.
In discusssion with our Koala Clancy members later, we decided to call her Patsy.
Koala sightings along the lower Moorabool River are scarce. But we knew of reports around Gheringhap, at Maude, and at Batesford, some very recent. Also, we had seen koala scratches and poo at one of our long-term revegetation sites near Bannockburn in 2023. So we knew they were there, occasionally at least. You can see how few sightings are recorded on the diagram in this article.
The Moorabool River looks like koala country. Huge old River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) trees line the banks of the river from Sheoaks to Batesford. But for most of that 40km length, the forest is only one-tree wide on each bank, surrounded by open farmland everywhere else.
Koalas in this area need about 3000 trees each, and when the trees are 20m apart, that means a 3km home range. There is no rest for a koala in this situation. They are constantly on the move, crossing dangerous paddocks and roads, encountering dogs, cattle and cars. Breeding becomes even more difficult, as other koalas are far away.
You can see how the Moorabool River looks to a koala in the following diagram. The black arrows are threats, from both directions. The only safe course, with feed trees, is the river, but its a life of constant, exhausting movement.
Added to that, koalas need a bit of variety – they can’t eat just River Red Gum every day, all year. They need to have the option to munch on a Yellow Gum (E leucoxylon), a Yellow Box (E melliodora), a Swamp Gum (E ovata) or a Manna Gum (E viminalis) when conditions make those species more palatable.
Our planting projects along the Moorabool River take all this into account. We are not planting koala corridors, we are planting koala homes. They are as wide as possible – 50m in places – and include all the local native trees that would once have occurred there. They act as koala homes: a safe living space for a koala or two, connected to another home by a corridor.
You can see the difference a little bit of targeted tree planting could make in the following diagram. By revegetating some of the bends, an area with no current permanent koala home ranges quickly becomes a small resident koala population. The threats are still there, but koalas don’t have to face them every day.
With koala homes, a koala population can form. A male koala could have a big home range that includes the ranges of two females. He’ll still have to walk a bit, but at least he doesn’t have joeys to feed. The females can rest up, and save their energy for raising joeys.
It all makes sense, right?
But all this only works if koalas are nearby. If they are not close, it may take them many years to find and get to the new koala homes.
So sighting Patsy, a healthy female koala along the Moorabool River, was exciting. It meant that our new planted trees would be noticed by at least one koala as soon as they grow above the tree guards. As the trees grow, she will make full use of them.
In just two to four years, koala Patsy might decide to stay in the new koala home. When she has a female joey, she might choose to stay too.
That is how recovery starts. Little improvements that mean better, longer lives for a handful of animals. It means we might have stopped the pace of decline, in just this one small micro-population.
And that’s what we’re here for.
If you want to help, there’s a few ways you can do it.
- Donate: We always need donations – tree planting is costly, and we are a small independent charity without a source of reliable ongoing funds. Any amount is appreciated. Donate here.
- Plant: We plant trees in June, July & August and we welcome local volunteers. Read more here.
- Share: This post with friends, especially if you have friends with land near the Little, Barwon or Moorabool Rivers.
- Express interest in tree planting on your land: We are keen to talk to landowners who can help us make this future possible. Read more here.