Water stations may help koalas survive ongoing drought and heat events, research finds – ABC

By June 7, 2019 June 14th, 2019 Archive

ABC Coffs Coast               By Claudia Jambor and Liz Keen                      Friday 7th June 2019

CLICK ON LINK TO PLAY VIDEO: Researchers monitor a koala drinking station. (ABC News)

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Water stations could reduce heat stress and other effects of ongoing drought and extreme weather events on koalas and other animals, new research has found.

Key points

  • Researcher Valentina Mella warns the future for koalas is bleak if action is not taken to support them through climate change
  • The study came about after koalas were frequently seen drinking from swimming pools and dog bowls in rural NSW
  • Dr Mella says the study demonstrates leaves are not the only source of hydration for koalas

The study by Valentina Mella and her team from the University of Sydney showed koalas, in particular, regularly used the alternative water source.

Dr Mella and her team conducted the three-year study near Gunnedah in western NSW, where residents were regularly seeing the vulnerable-listed species looking for water.

“Landowners in rural NSW noticed that koalas were approaching houses and trying to find free water near swimming pools and in dog bowls,” Dr Mella said.

“We thought that if we were trying to give koalas water up in the trees or near tress where they already live then maybe they could avoid coming close to humans, which is not always the best for them.”

Deforestation, bushfires, diseases such as chlamydia, and vehicle collisions were among the main factors that had driven a severe decline in koala populations in recent years.

PHOTO: Sam the koala became famous around the world after this photo was taken during the Victorian bushfires. (Reuters)

Data from the Australian Department of Environment estimated there had been a 42 per cent drop in koala populations between 1990 and 2010.

Scientists have predicted the species will be extinct by 2050.

For Dr Mella, her research further highlighted the need to protect Australia’s native wildlife and environment.

“Climate change is real and it’s happening,” she said.

“It’s about time that we try to find practical solutions that can actually mean that the animals are going to try to push through. If we don’t do that, the future doesn’t look very good for koalas.”

Dr Mella said the research results clearly showed koalas regularly used the stations to supplement their water needs during harsh conditions.

She also said it debunked the theory koalas were solely hydrated from eucalypt leaves.

PHOTO: Dr Valentina Mella conducted a three-year study investigating koala drinking behaviour. (Supplied: University of Sydney )

During a 12-month period, the team recorded 605 visits to 10 pairs of water stations and 401 of these visits saw koalas drinking.

The study found it was not only koalas using the stations either with sightings of feather-tail, sugar and squirrel gliders as well as brushtail possums, birds and native bees spotted having a drink.

But the artificial watering holes also attracted unwanted feral animals.

“To get around this problem, we’re developing stations that are so high up the tree that cats and foxes aren’t really going to be able to climb that high and access,” Dr Mella said.

She said the water stations could serve well as a short-term solution with regular maintenance.

But Dr Mella said a long-term solution to assist koalas lay in larger scale stations or maintaining billabongs and dams.

Contact Claudia Jambor