Translocating koalas always will be a risky business. Although many of the risks can be mitigated through careful choice of animals and translocation site, it is impossible to make accurate long-term predictions of extreme weather events, and where lightning may strike and cause out-of-control wildfires. We can't hold decision-makers responsible for these events and how they affect translocated animals. In the case of the Cape Otway koala translocations, DELWP did their best to time the program and select a release site that would give translocated koalas the best chance of survival. They now also have implemented a monitoring program which addresses one of my earlier concerns about their program (see my last blog).In Victoria, there is always potential for extremely hot weather in December and January but I don’t think anyone could have predicted the severity of the heatwave that hit Victoria in late December 2015. This weather undoubtedly would have affected survival of the 400 koalas translocated from Cape Otway in Nov/Dec but also would have affected survival of those remaining at Cape Otway too. As for fire, neither Cape Otway nor the area where the translocated koalas were released have been affected… yet.... but, Victoria’s fire season is far from over.
The Great Ocean Road fires that have been reported widely in the media were sparked by lightning strikes on the 19th December (http://news.cfa.vic.gov.au/news/lorne-fires-update). Despite hard work by CFA crews, these fires burned out of control, eventually claiming many properties in the townships of Wye River and Separation Creek. Thankfully, no human lives were lost but the impact of these fires on all wildlife (not just koalas!) will have been considerable.
More heat waves and greater frequency and intensity of wildfire are increasing threats to the conservation of many wildlife species. Research already has indicated that koalas have poor tolerance for dry, hot conditions and in parts of Queensland where heatwaves are becoming more common and last longer, koalas are disappearing. Although our current focus in southern Australia is managing the impacts of high-density koala populations, we should not forget that many of our koala populations are threatened by warming climates and therefore must consider how we can manage these populations more effectively too.
|Location of the fire affected area relative to the translocation |
area in the Great Otway National Park