Koala habitat: restoring to connect and connecting to restore

Australia and Africa: Two continents, many thousands of kilometres apart, both grappling with the same question—how people and wildlife coexist and thrive in a changing climate.

I recently visited Australia, where our team has been restoring and connecting wildlife habitats along the country’s east coast. This has become more important than ever with climate change increasing the frequency and intensity of disasters, further fragmenting and destroying habitats already broken by land clearing and development.

22nd Report. IFAW. Leonard Joel Auctions
IFAW Global Projects Vice President Jimmiel Mandima with Bangalow Koalas President Linda Sparrow looking at the wildlife corridor IFAW is supporting through various tree plantings. Photo © IFAW

I couldn’t help but see parallels between that work and IFAW’s Room to Roam initiative in Africa, where we aim to protect and secure a connected network of key savannah elephant habitats in East and Southern Africa to ensure their populations persist.

Just as the elephant is an icon of Africa, the koala is an icon of Australia. Both face the impending risk of extinction as humans encroach on their habitats. And on both continents, IFAW works to create safe passages for these animals to help them coexist with people.

The impact of habitat fragmentation is something the IFAW veterinarian team at Friends of the Koala in New South Wales (NSW) experiences daily. They are seeing a significant increase in koalas being struck by vehicles. As we knock down their habitat for development, koalas are forced to cross busy roads to reach their destinations.

The veterinarian team rehabilitates these koalas, but they still need to be released into safe areas where they can thrive. To that end, through our partnership with Bangalow Koalas, we have planted thousands of trees in NSW that koalas and other native wildlife can use.

Our work in Australia relies on collaboration with communities, Indigenous groups, governments, the private sector and other NGOs. At Ngunya Jagoon Indigenous Protected Area in Wardell, NSW, we are leaning on the expert knowledge of the Jali rangers who are stewards of this biodiversity and cultural hotspot. This landscape was significantly impacted by the Black Summer bushfires and catastrophic floods. We’re collecting and analysing koala scat to learn about the post-fire health of this koala population, in collaboration with government and our partners at Friends of the Koala and the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Detection Dogs for Conservation. Similarly, Room to Roam relies on local rangers working on the frontlines, promoting citizen science and sustainability. 

Innovation is needed too, and I saw this in action at Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust Sanctuary in southern NSW. This once-biodiverse hotspot was destroyed by the Black Summer bushfires. Many hollow-dependent animals that once inhabited this 700-plus-hectare property now have nowhere to go.

I learned natural hollows take up to two centuries to develop in a eucalypt tree. To help the animals that rely on them, our partners at Habitat Innovation and Management developed Habitech nest boxes that mimic natural hollows and provide a ready-to-move-in home for endangered animals like the greater glider and the gang-gang cockatoo. Together, we’re offering safe spaces for threatened species to return to the area and thrive.

With our partner Great Eastern Ranges (GER), we’re helping build community and wildlife resilience against future disasters. I witnessed this resilience during my visits to project sites impacted by fires and floods in the Lockyer Valley of Southeast Queensland. I was touched by the life-threatening experiences of landholders during the fires and their spirited resolve to “build back better” for nature protection and habitat restoration.

The work IFAW and GER are doing to help these communities and landscapes heal is contributing to the overarching aim of improving connectivity, which is also a key aim of Room to Roam. This was the theme of the GER Connecting People, Connecting Nature conference that I participated in during my visit, which IFAW proudly sponsored. 

The take-home message from the conference, and the entire trip, was that IFAW’s ambitious goals to connect habitats for wildlife in both Australia and Africa will only be accomplished by connecting people—those in government, Indigenous people, local communities, and members of the private sector. By working collaboratively, we can ensure animals and people thrive together into the future.

Jimmiel Mandima / IFAW Global Programs Vice President

Banner Image: Koala climbing tree | Wikimedia Commons

On 22 March 2017the first industry briefing between IFAW and Auctioneers and Antique Dealers from Australia took place, with the view to ending the auction and antiques trade in rhinoceros horn and ivory. That same year, Leonard Joel introduced a voluntary cessation policy and we are proud to no longer sell these materials. 

February 2023