We are well into the peak of koala breeding season on the Gold Coast, which means more koalas are on the move and we all need to play a part to help keep them safe.
When sick or injured koalas are carefully picked up from the side of a Gold Coast road, chances are it’s a Wildcare Australia volunteer that has responded to the call.
Wildcare Australia has been around for 25 years and Karen Scott has been its president for ten – and their incredible efforts in caring for and conserving wildlife are no mean feat.
The community organisation manages a 24-hour hotline which receives calls from the public alerting them to native wildlife in need of assistance. Sometimes it’s just information and guidance that’s provided, but more often than not it is rescue, care and rehabilitation and then release.
“Our main aim is the rescue and rehabilitation of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife,” Karen explained to We Are Gold Coast. “We’re a volunteer based organisation and we have no paid staff.”
Most animals are vet-checked by the staff at the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. The Hospital does any necessary veterinary work and fosters the animals back out to Wildcare Australia volunteers who care for the animals at home until they’re able to be released again.
Wildcare Australia started with a focus on koalas more than two decades ago, and today, the koala, which is listed as ‘vulnerable’ under the Australian EPBC act in Queensland remains a focus of their work. But that work also extends to all native animals.
Karen explains that birds make up a lot of their work.
“Birds account for around two-thirds of what we rescue,” she said. “And next would be possums, and then species such as kangaroos, wallabies, reptiles and gliders.”
“We don’t get many frogs, bandicoots or antechinus. It’s mostly birds, possums, macropods and reptiles.”
Karen says during the breeding season, there are more rescues due to the increase in koalas dispersing across roads and through residential backyards in order to mate, find food and undertake home ranging behaviours.
“We undertake at least a couple of koala rescues each week normally,” she said. “But one day last weekend we took four koalas to Currumbin hospital. It varies. This is our busiest time of year for koalas.”
Karen explains that this season is the busiest for two reasons. Firstly, it’s been unusually dry.
“So the quality of eucalyptus leaf is low. There’s not a lot of really soft new tip around, so for koalas – all wildlife really, the leaf quality is not good and if the animal is already compromised we tend to get more sick animals coming into care. They’re finding it harder to move around, to find good leaf quality, so we get more koalas reported.”
The second reason koalas are more likely to be injured this time of year is because they’re more active, making them at a higher risk of misadventure or be hit by cars.
“There’s a couple of reasons for that. The days are shorter and animals are already out and about when we are getting up and getting on the road,” Karen explained. “That has a big impact.”
“And of course, they’re starting to breed as well as both males and females are travelling longer distances.”
While it’s common knowledge that koalas are at risk due to urbanisation, Karen explains that diseased animals outweigh those that come in due to trauma.
Car strikes and dog attacks also injure and kill a significant number of koalas every year. Irrespective of the cause of a koala’s distress, Karen says people can make a huge difference. She says recognising the signs of disease is a big first step.
“With chlamydia, if reported in the early stages of disease, we have a good chance of treating them,” she said. “If not reported early, the disease can spread. Getting a koala into care in the early stages is really vital,” Karen explained.
A koala with chlamydia may have inflammation, discharge, crustiness and/or swelling in either or both of the eyes and may have a dark brown stain around their bottom.
Karen says seeing anything unusual with koalas is cause for concern.
“Like seeing a koala in a non-food tree for more than a day or sitting on the ground,” she said. “They will come down and move to another tree, but koalas found sitting on the ground with their head down is not normal.”
With cars, Karen says the most important thing for Gold Coasters is to be really diligent whilst driving.
“It is easy for everyone to become complacent when driving home. You know the road. It’s easy for an animal to run out in front of your car if you’re not paying close attention,” she said.
“Wild animals often don’t have much road sense. Obeying speed limits and being really diligent from late afternoon to full daylight is important.”
Likewise with dogs, Karen says people have an obligation to keep their pets contained.
“If there are animals coming down to the ground or moving between trees in your back yard, then dogs can’t get to them [if they’re contained],” she explained. “It only takes one bite. One little nip and that’s enough to cause significant infection and the death of the animal if they’re not treated.”
Karen said if a dog comes into contact with a native animal, chances are there’ll be a puncture wound.
“Even though there may be no blood or obvious signs of injury, there will be a puncture somewhere and bacteria gets trapped in and causes problems,” she said. “If a dog does come into contact with a native animal, they [native wildlife] will require veterinary treatment.”
With an increase in injured and sick koalas, it’s no surprise that Wildcare Australia is constantly on the hunt for new volunteers. Karen explains her own motivation for volunteering as president and spokesperson for the organisation.
“I think it’s just nice to be able to rectify some of the damage we’ve done, particularly when Mother Nature never intended for them to be hit by cars,” she said. “We can rectify human-related activities or damage caused to them. It’s a good thing we can do to hopefully get them out and go back to what they were meant to do in the first place,” she said.
“The most important thing we do in Wildcare is getting these animals rescued,” Karen explained. “It would be great to have more carers, but having people help out to pick these animals up and deliver them to a hospital, vet clinic or carer is critical.”
And people of all ages, professions and backgrounds can make a difference. Karen says many of the organisation’s volunteers work full-time and work around other commitments. Volunteers do some basic training and then help out when they can.
There are other ways for Gold Coasters to help too. People are always needed for tasks like making pouches for orphaned joeys, answering phones (their emergency hotline receives 10,000 calls a year) and fundraising. Because feeding and caring for wildlife doesn’t come cheap and with no paid staff, every dollar goes a very long way.
“We mostly rely upon grant funding and donations from the public and sponsors,” she said. “And we always need more help.”
The koala breeding season in Southeast Queensland extends from around August through to January with most young born over the summer months.
To donate to Wildcare Australia, visit wildcare.org.au.
If you come across sick or injured native wildlife, you can call Wildcare Australia’s 24-hour emergency hotline on 07 5527 2444.
If you would like to receive a free information pack about koalas and koala conservation, up-to-date information on what is happening in the local koala population and invitations to future community events, become a Koala Friend today.