A distressing spate of koala fatalities in 2479 reminds us to drive with caution, writes Angela Saurine.
It was early on a cold winter morning when Linda Sparrow heard someone yelling at the front gate of her Bangalow home.
At first, she thought it was a delivery driver, but the reality was far worse – a man carrying a dead koala and her joey, which had been hit by a car on the Hinterland Way in the town’s south. Just days earlier, fellow Bangalow Koalas member, Dale Viola, had erected a sign asking drivers to slow down at that very spot, between Lawlers Lane and Wiley Road, after being notified of their presence. For someone who has dedicated years of her life to creating a wildlife corridor for koalas across the Northern Rivers region, the sight was nothing short of devastating. “That was the worst day of my life,” Linda says. “The day before I’d heard about another koala and joey that were killed on Broken Head Road at Broken Head.”
Linda, who is president of Bangalow Koalas, is urging drivers to slow down and keep their dogs inside, or at least contained, between dusk and dawn during koala breeding season, which began in July and continues through to March. “That’s why the mothers and joeys are killed – they’re desperately trying to get away from males,” she says. “This is the time of year when there’s more car strikes and dog attacks. The younger ones are trying to find their own territory and if there’s not enough trees, they’re on the ground more. The more trees we cut down, the more time they spend on the ground.”
Linda says Lismore Road near Dudgeons Lane, which leads to Bangalow Industrial Estate, and Granuaille Road leading onto Hinterland Way are known koala kill hotspots. In August, a koala crept onto the verandah of a house in Palm-Lily Crescent in the early hours of the morning. Koalas have also been spotted in Raftons Road, Rifle Range Road, Lismore Road, Dudgeons Lane, Palm Tree Crescent, Deacon Street and Clover Hill Circuit.
Now a registered environmental organisation, Bangalow Koalas Inc. formed from a Facebook page called Friends of Bangalow Koalas in 2016 when members of the local community began realising the importance of the population on the western side of Bangalow. It initially began by protecting a 400-metre stretch of trees at the end of Rifle Range Road, then started working with Byron Shire Council to encourage people to record koala sightings. “When we started asking people, we realised how many koalas were in the area,” Linda says. “There’s a lot more than people thought.”
The exact number, however, is unknown as there haven’t been systematic surveys conducted across the area. “Precise koala population numbers are very hard to estimate, owing to their cryptic nature,” Byron Shire Council’s biodiversity team leader Liz Caddick says. “We’ve recently completed koala activity surveys in the coastal area, which suggests a slight increase in the number of active sites, but a decrease in activity levels. We are also partnering with neighbouring local government areas to do some broad scale koala activity monitoring throughout the Northern Rivers region. We do know that the entire hinterland is within an Area of Regional Koala Significance, with frequent koala sightings made by residents. The Northern Rivers region is likely to become increasingly important as habitat for koalas as the climate changes, so it is a real priority area for habitat conservation and restoration.”
Lismore-based Friends of the Koala figures show 51 koalas from the Byron Shire were admitted to its hospital in the 2021/22 financial year. More than half of those admitted had chlamydia or other diseases, while 11 had been hit by cars. “We are incredibly lucky to live in an area with a significant koala population, but it is up to all of us to play a part in their protection,” says Aliison Kelly, who is president of Friends of the Koala, which also operates a 24-hour rescue hotline, an education centre and a koala care facility with a dedicated kindy for orphaned koalas.
In February 2022 the status of the koala changed from vulnerable to endangered in New South Wales, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory. Bangalow Koalas’ long-term goal is to form a linkage of habitat from Byron Bay west towards Tenterfield and south towards Grafton. It aims to plant 500,000 trees by the end of 2025 – 80,000 of them this year. “At the moment we have about 72,000 funded,” Linda says. The organisation has about six community plantings each year, with up to 170 people showing up to help pre-COVID. The devastating floods that hit the region in February have also thrown a spanner in the works. “There’s some properties that we need to plant but we still can’t get access to them for preparation for planting because they were flooded,” Linda says. Despite this, the organisation is still on track to reach its goal for 2022.