Populations of potentially genetically significant and disease-free koalas have been found living on the Newnes Plateau north of Lithgow and will be mapped for the first time, in an effort to conserve these at risk colonies.
Building on historical sightings of koalas on the plateau, wildlife conservation organisation Science for Wildlife conducted koala scat surveys after the bushfires of 2019/20. They found koala scats in several areas, including around Rocky Creek Canyon.
The group, led by Executive Director Dr Kellie Leigh, now has teams out koala spotting in the area to establish the density of koalas at the site.
“While any potential new koala site is important, the Newnes Plateau area could be of particular significance because preliminary data suggests that these koalas might be free from chlamydia, however more research is needed to confirm this,” Dr Leigh said.
“Our overarching aim is to determine what koalas remain in the area since the 2019-20 fires, if there are enough koalas in the area for the population to bounce back, and whether they are genetically diverse or disease free.
“If we find enough koalas, we will begin a new ecological study at the site. This will include capture of koalas for health checks, genetic samples, disease testing and then radio tracking them to determine tree use, home range sizes, and breeding and mortality rates.”
A staggering 80 per cent of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area was burned during the Black Summer bushfires, devastating what is considered one of the most significant populations of genetically diverse koalas which were, before the fires, thriving in an area where many thought they couldn’t.
To map these populations, Science for Wildlife is conducting koala surveys across a number of other sites in the Greater Blue Mountains area, including Kanangra-Boyd, Kedumba Valley, in the Lower Blue Mountains, and in Wollemi National Park and the Hawkesbury LGA.
This important work is being undertaken with the support of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and the NSW Koala Strategy
Since 2014, there have been six reported koala sightings in the Lithgow LGA. Dr Leigh urged anyone who lives near the world heritage area, including in the Lithgow and Oberon regions, to report sightings of koalas online at Scienceforwildlife.org.