Conserving Koala Country

Conserving Koala Country

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

What's in a name?


Some say that it is not good scientific practice to name your study animals. Obviously I disagree. I think a name is easier to remember than a number and allows us all to engage more with the research. Besides, Jane Goodall named her chimpanzees so why can’t I name my koalas?
Since 2010, about 50 Cape Otway koalas have been named. I have generally allowed those helping me catch to choose a name but ‘try’ to claim the power of veto. I say ‘try’ because sometimes a name is slipped in without me getting a chance to veto, or I am simply out-voted. Here's just a few that had reasons behind their names...

Princess – captured by an Earthwatch team on the day of the royal wedding. I thought ‘Kate’ would be fitting but I was ignored. 'Princess' lived up to her name though. Such a drama queen in a catch!

Lucie – named for my lovely French volunteer. She had the same sweet personality (See the photo at the top of the blog).

Dave – you just have to love a koala called ‘Dave’. Dave is definitely my favourite.

Kevin – the eleventh koala ever collared... "Kevin Eleven"

Bruce – big, grumbly and slow-moving. Bruuuuuuuccce.....

Bruce

Tony Parker – a French basketballer. Apparently this koala moved just like him? Named by a French volunteer.

Erik – after the Viking (Erik the Red) who was shipwrecked at Cape Otway.
Erik

Mac – moved as fast as a Mac truck.

Frankie – named for Frank from Bimbi Park. We messed up on matching personalities here though. Koala 'Frank' was plain nasty and earnt him the nickname 'Cranky Frankie'.

Beast – quite scary and ‘beast’-like and named by a visiting researcher. We estimate him to be about 12 y.o. so he's my oldest boy.
Beast

Scarface – pretty obvious really. In 2010 I came across him. He had a terribly infected face wound (not sure what caused it) and I didn't think he'd live. A year later, I saw him with a healed but scarred face so decided to collar him. He still lives on.... a resilient fellow.
Scarface

Emily, Charly, Georgie, and Benjamin were joeys named for my three nieces and nephew. Some of the few named by me and obviously the cutest joeys ever.

And from our latest trip, we have Diamond named as a thank you to Mitsubishi, Fran named for San Francisco zoo, and Sarah and Tigger both named by Earthwatchers for their own personal reasons. Next week I will be heading back to the Cape to add another 16 koalas to the list. Any suggestions for names?

Monday, 8 September 2014

Cut..... Take 137... Rolling....

I was fortunate to be able to join the September Earthwatch team for a few days of their trip. 'Fortunate' in that I loved spending time with yet another group of enthusiastic people who share my passion for the environment. The unfortunate part was that it was only for a few days AND involved a lot of time spent in front of a camera, often having to repeat the same tasks and conversations multiple times. One of the holes I dug while planting trees nearly took me to China it was so deep by the time the film crew got their perfect shot. I know the promotion of the project will make it all worthwhile though. Mitsubishi has generously provided funding to Earthwatch to make a documentary of the 'Conserving Koala Country' Earthwatch trip.
 
Despite all that was happening, I did get a chance to find our old collared friends. Bella is looking good and appears to have decided to settle in her new area over the hill. Buffy also hasn't moved much since February. Sally is back in her original range and has a tiny pouch young. I only caught a glimpse of a leg poking out of her pouch. No wonder she left Sammy behind in March... she needed to prepare for a new joey. I found Dave sitting in a tree near the driveway of Pat and Cyril's and he bellowed a greeting.


video

I took the film crew to meet him so that they could film him bellow but Dave turned camera shy and just scowled at us. Interestingly, Scarface was sitting in the neighbouring tree to Dave. I was happy to see him because he dropped his collar months ago so I haven't seen him for a while.

Dave goes camera shy

Scarface still hanging around

True to form, Beast was trying to romance a female. Judging by her screams, she wasn't interested but I'm guessing he will wait until she is. He's pretty persistent. We caught both Beast and the female (now named 'Tigger') and put proximity collars on them. These will tell us when they finally do get together and then when they break up. That's koala love for you... not long term! Each collar has a unique code and when within a few metres of each other, they each record the other code and the time spent near it. Cool stuff!  We also caught and collared a new male named 'Diamond' by Earthwatchers Craig and Robyn. The diamond is part of Mitsubishi's logo so we thought that this name was a nice way to thank Mitsubishi for their sponsorship.

On my last day, we found a female (with a large joey) in the same area as Beast and his as-yet-unwilling girlfriend, so I decided to try to catch her too for fitting a proximity collar. When I finally got myself into a good position to catch (2 anchor points up!), this female decided that she didn't like the idea of being caught and moved just out of reach. Anybody who has ever climbed to catch koalas would understand how I felt at this point. I came pretty close to calling it off... but... it was a perfect koala for the study, the last opportunity to catch on this trip, and ultimately, I am stubborn and hate being out-smarted by a koala. So, I took a deep breath, muttered a few choice words that I hope the film crew didn't hear and record, and anchored a third point in the tree. This time, I managed to get the koala into the neighbouring tree where my able Earthwatchers (Jenna and Tori) could flag her. I was back down the tree in a lot less time than it took me to get up and soon our little mum and joey were snug in holding bags. I am sure that Jenna and Tori were pleased that I didn't call the catch off because they got to mind the little joey (a girl - named Sarah by Jenna) while I processed the mum (named 'Fran' as an acknowledgement for the San Francisco Zoo who sponsored Jenna's trip). Fran and Sarah were soon reunited and released and were climbing their way back up the tree (much quicker than I climbed it!).
 
Today, I am back in Melbourne and feeling a bit creaky, sore and tired. Despite that, I have no regrets. It was such a pleasure to work alongside such amazing people, and as always, a privilege to have the opportunity to study these beautiful animals. I take back what I said yesterday and instead say "I will never be too old to do this".

Thanks to the Earthwatch crew (Kento, Shirley, Robyn, Craig, Jenna, Tori), Alistair (co-PI) and Cass (Earthwatch Australia) for letting me join you, and my Bimbi Park family for everything you do for me (Dimitri - I wish you a speedy recovery). I also would like to thank the film crew (Sharon, Andrew, Brent, Max, Jess, Clint and Amy) for your patience. If there's ever a next time though, makeup, hairstyling, my own motorhome and a massage or two would be appreciated :-) Oh, and I'm going to add a fee for joeys...