Giving koalas a home among the gum trees

Ian Dunn and Dr Alistair Melzer at Nankin.
Ian Dunn and Dr Alistair Melzer at Nankin. Allan Reinikka ROK190117akoala1

IAN DUNN believes the land he owns has a debt to pay the local koala community, which no longer exists.

The Rockhampton local, whose property is at Nankin, has offered up his land as a koala sanctuary for the Capricorn Koala Project, which has been 20 years in the making.

Ian's journey into the project started several years ago, when one of the locals "mentioned to me as a kid he used to come on to our property and shoot koalas”.

He said two thoughts initially sprung to mind - his property was obviously a suitable koala habitat and, once you knock out a couple of ancestors, you have a huge effect on future generations.

"So I really felt this land had a debt to repay to the local koala community, which no longer exists, so I guess that was the start for me into this project,” Ian said.

"Then I made some enquiries into who was the local koala expert and that's how I came across Alistair and then we went from there and we've started this project.”

Dr Alistair Melzer, from CQUniversity, who has also been working on the koala project for some time, said Ian had put his hand up to have the koala sanctuary on his property, which would help reintroduce koalas to the Capricorn Coast, where they used to exist decades ago.

With community and government support at an all-time high, the university and property owner hope to start the project in the next 18 months.

"The property owner wanted to participate in the project and that's essential because the land the koalas are introduced to has to be managed to accommodate the koalas,” Dr Melzer said.

"Secondly, this property has excellent connectivity through the forest and up to the national park to the north of us, so it's an ideal spot to do a trial release of koalas.”

The project will be run as research due to a government requirement so its first stages will involve trialling reintroductions.

"The first step of that is to investigate where the koalas will come from,” Dr Melzer said.

"So we need to consider whether the koalas are genetically suitable for here but also the ethics, whether they're coming from a similar climatic region or not.

Koalas will find a home among the Mt Archer gum trees again.
Koalas will find a home among the Mt Archer gum trees again.

"Because you don't want to take koalas that are adapted to a cooler environment and put them into 40-degree heat.

"Then we need to make sure they're healthy and that they'll accept the local food tree species.”

The koalas will be taken to the property and held there until they have completely adapted to the local environment.

After they have adapted, researchers will simply open the gate of the compound and the koalas will be "happy to roam free”.

The koalas will be monitored through radio transmitting collars and ear tags, which will help track movement around the bush, interaction and breeding patterns.

Ian Dunn and Dr Alistair Melzer at the Nankin property.
Ian Dunn and Dr Alistair Melzer at the Nankin property. Allan Reinikka ROK190117akoala2

"When we've got a resident population of koalas, which are breeding here, then we will say we are 90% successful.

"If they produce offspring that then breed, we know we're 100% successful,” Dr Melzer said.

Ian said he would measure the true success of the project in a somewhat different way.

"I guess when my grandchildren are old enough and I can show them a koala in the wild and say 'your grandfather is a part of this', then that to me will be the total success of the project.”

Topics:  breeding cq university koala nankin

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