I’ve been to the Byron Bay area in New South Wales a number of times to visit Kath’s family. Her sister lives in an idyllic spot surrounded by gum trees and close to a nature reserve and swamp area. I’ve had the joy of seeing young kangeroos on the lawn and koalas in the trees. This year I have seen none of these. I’m told that there is a lot of building work around which frightens the animals, the beach path has become busier, and most importantly wild dogs have begun to live in the reserve area. Add to that the drought which Australia has faced this summer, and the destruction of around 12 football pitches of trees a day in the region for human progress, and you get the problem.
So yesterday Kath took me to the Friends of the Koala rehabilitation and care centre which is on the campus of Southern Cross University near Lismore. It offers two talk/tours a day, mindful that this is not a touchy-feely-tourist site but a working 24 hour rescue service and treatment centre. The aim, wherever possible, is to get the koala back out into the wild independently living after care. In 16/17 they welcomed 429 Koala (compared to 300 in previous year). Many, especially in the last few hot months, have been too dehydrated to survive. Around 15% are normally released to carry on free lives after growing healthier, older, wiser, and stronger. This level is rising to 24-30% as more nursing is available.
Given that the Koala is a symbol of Australia, along with Kanger, it is awful to realise that these animals are on the at risk register. They are classed as “Vulnerable” under the Threatened Species Conservation Act. They are on the path to “Endangered” and may, without serious action from all quarters, become Extinct. I was told this centre receives around $15k of government money, relying for all the rest of its costs on time/talent from 100 Volunteers, the income from tours and talks, charitable donations, individual major gifts and trust/grant funding. This charity has just one paid member of staff working with a range of volunteer trustees. She is there to run the centre, be the public face in the office/shop, and undertake grant fundraising and promotion/marketing for the centre. She is welcoming and joyful and supported by skilled volunteer handlers and nursing care staff. They are hoping to afford one paid nurse soon. This will mean that $100,000 pa must be raised for the core wages/admin/ operational costs. Charity/government grants are often ring fenced for capital development or education, so can’t be used for these essential operating costs. A conundrum for many very small charities.
They are a victim, I suspect, of just getting on and doing it, as they have for 30 years, not making a fuss, and not creating a tourist/celebrity brand. They were telling me of another centre where they have the benefit of a celebrity endorsement and the royalties from a classic Australian song.
Things you may not know – Koalas are only found on the Eastern seaboard side of Australia and south east in Victoria. There are 900 types of gum tree in Australia and the koala needs to explore 3-4 different types to get the differing nutrients from the leaves that they need. They shouldn’t need to drink water, because the leaves have sufficient moisture in them. They are prone to some nasty eye diseases (not catching to humans), but their main cause of injury and death is exhaustion trying to move to find habitat which has not been destroyed by humans, being hit by cars as they go on their travels to find the next tree, and being attacked by dogs as they move on the ground between trees. A healthy koala stays high in its trees, has a nice white rump, grey fur and sleeps for 20hrs a day allowing time to digest its delicious diet.
Why this blog – well partly to share the joy of seeing these amazingly intelligent and bright, loving creatures close to is very special. We met Triumph who was rescued as a baby when his mum was killed. He has a genetic condition of a stumped right leg and so he has been given special permission to stay living in the centre for the rest of his life. He is cared for by the volunteer handler Marley and she brings him out to meet visitors. The rest of the residents are to be seen at a distance, as they are slowly helped away from any interaction with humans and ready to fend for themselves, first into the 11acres of trees around the centre, and then wherever they may roam. If you go on line you can support Triumph and his fellow residents with a donation. Do help if you can.
The other reason for the blog is to wonder whether there’s anyone out there who knows someone, or is someone, who could help to champion this centre. It is a place which deserves attention and support. It reminded me of the amazing Mousehole Bird Sanctuary in Cornwall which I have been visiting for 40 years. Another tiny charity which does endless work to help birds damaged by humans (usually) to recover and get back into the wild and on with their life. If you want to find out more then have a look on their site.
I was deeply encouraged reading the Friends of the Koala website to learn that 8,900 staff and contractors working on the construction of the widening and new sections of the Pacific Highway have been given classes and awareness training on caring for the koala and its environment for the long haul. We humans are not going to stop expanding and destroying our earth, but maybe we can do it a little more thoughtfully so that some species on the planet can be allowed to move from Vulnerable to wonderfully thriving.
If you work in the theatre, work in advocacy, work in product marketing, work in schools or colleges, travel to New South Wales, have celebrity friends, or colleagues in the area who could plant some gum trees – then think how you might make a difference to the ever growing damaged population of this deeply appealing co-habiting species on this ever changing planet.