Australia; Deborah Tabart
Australia; Paul O'Callaghan
Australia; Katrina Benge
Australia; Peter Thelamon
Captive juvenile animal
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
13 Mar 2000
- Brisbane; Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
- -27.53293 152.9693
- 1:04 - 38:24
- Moggill; Moggill Koala Hospital
- -27.57667 152.87583
- 41:20 - 1:04:55
- Sennheiser MKH 40
- Sennheiser MKH 30
Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo
Log of DAT 2: Tape Labeled: C-1
Lone Pine Sanctuary / Moggill
Cover Labeled: Deb Tabart, Paul O'C, Bindi at Moggill
Logged by Joan Kelly, Magian Design Studio, Australia
Date: March 13, 2000
48kHz 16 bit stereo MS
ng = not good
ok = okay
g = good
vg = very good
00:15 ID: 13 March 2000
At Lone Pine Sanctuary where we will do a couple of koala interviews and then go to the Hospital. Rolling in MS-stereo, using sennheisers, 40/30. 9.00am.
Interview with Deborah Tabart- Executive Director of the Australian Koala Foundation. Alan in left channel, Deb in right.
01:13 Interview begins
A. Tell us, generally speaking, what is the state of the koala nationally.
D. The Australian Koala Foundation believes there is probably less than 100,000 in Australia left. I personally feel it is lower than that and the only figure you can really compare it to is that in 1923 3 million koala skins went to market, and we have historical documents that show that maybe three to four times more than that were shot. So its my view that there could have been 12 million or 10 million koalas in Australia in the 1920's and now I think its less than 100,000. And our government doesn't agree with me, or the Foundation, and so I have basically taken the view these days, well show me where they are, and until such time as someone can show me hundreds and thousands of koalas then I'll keep saying what I'm saying.
A. Is it a problem for you that, in fact, you're talking about an animal that's no easy to see?
D. Yes, well that's really interesting, but our science is not based on seeing animals. Our science is based on picking up their poo. So what we do is go into the bush and do systematic checks in the bush, putting down a 40x40 quadrat and then looking at the base of every tree, and say, yes, there're koalas using this because there's poo here, and so we're pretty confident that a lot of our bush is empty. And we have now mapped, by hand, which is an incredible job, some 5million acres where we have done that - where we have measured individual trees. We have something like 60,000 trees that we've measured and over 600 field sites, and its my view the bush is empty. So its not a question of them not being able to see them, it is about not feeling their presence of getting physical evidence of their presence, so I'm very confident.
I've been in my job for thirteen years now and I've driven up and down this country, and across it, where koalas should be and I think there are three strongholds: one in Queensland, one in New South Wales and one in Victoria which are away from urbanisation but are under threat from logging or land clearing. So, you know you can't say they're safe, but at least I can sleep at night knowing there's good numbers out there, but that could change overnight with any sort of logging pressure.
A. What is it that drives you, personally, to do this.
D. Well, I've been asked this a lot. In my whole life, and three score and 10's not far away, I have really hated injustice and over the years I found myself working for different charities in all parts of the world - I've never really had a real job. I've always had a do-gooder type job. This is a perfect job for me because I actually used to raise money for humans who had cancer and other things and I just believe we are destroying our planet, and I think the koalas for me represent what is happening to the planet. Its such a gentle animal, it such a symbol of conservation to me so I'm very happy to be the koala woman and it gives me a platform to be able to say what I believe. I have personally made the decision that I'll achieve what I want to achieve as the koala woman, or I'll have to become a politician because I believe that there is so much wrong with the way we are using our planet and I'm going to be leaving soon, but I've had children and I'm going to be having grandchildren - what are we leaving these people if we don't do something. People say to me that I could sell real estate and make much more money - which I could, because I can sell ice-creams to Eskimos, which you know - but its something in me. I can't stop it, and of course, I've got a shocking reputation as a result because I'm always saying what I think is the truth and I examine, all the time, whether I have that right. The truth - what is the truth? All I can tell you is that I don't believe our government is telling the truth. I'm trying to tell the truth, and if my government could show me a million koalas then I would go home and grow vegetables and disband the foundation. So is that what drives me? Hmmm
A. Tell me about the mapping aspect of what you're doing. The project that's won you this award from the Smithsonian.
D. The maps has been an amazing journey. When I first got my job we used to fund research at universities and I used to sit in an office and raise money from corporations and give out this money through the research committees. But then the phone started ringing and people said, we've given you money and now there's a koala in a tree and now there's a bulldozer going to knock it over and we want you to come and help us, and I thought, crikey Moses, what am I going to do now? Really. So I started to go to these places, you know, and really what I came to know was that sometimes it was a koala issue and sometimes it wasn't. Sometimes it was just a person who didn't want a development next door, or they didn't want logging, or they didn't want a road built. And then I kept on thinking, well how do you arbitrate in this, and so I went to our government and said, can I have a koala map. Where are the koalas of Australia. And it was really that naïve. And, of course, they couldn't give it to me. So I thought, well blow it I'll map it myself. And, of course, then I realised what a massive task it was, but perhaps didn't realise how massive it was - and I think I wouldn't have ever started if I did.
So we started mapping, and then we actually mapped this incredible area where a government wanted to put a road through. And, of course, all of a sudden I'm in the middle of this huge political debate. And, in fact, that government didn't get back into power and I believe that it was because, in effect, because of the maps and the koalas and the whole thing. So I was a very burnt out person after this fight.
I went to America, thinking - and my maps were diminished all the time. And so I went to America with my maps under arm, literally expecting someone to say oh yes, they're stupid. But, in fact, we got told they were some of the finest maps they'd ever seen, and of course, we subsequently one the Computer World Smithsonian Award for them. What a thrill! What a thrill to have my government sitting beside me in Washington when they won't take any notice here.
So that was just the energy booster I needed to turn my thought processes around. I'm no longer burnt out. I'm more committed than ever. I know the maps are incredible. And as a result of meeting companies in the United States that are involved with this remote sensing and things, the applications of this technology are enormous and I think I'm one of the first conservationists to walk in those doors. So I'm now very motivated to try and be a bridge. A lot of this is military technology too. To bring that technology to the good of the planet, rather than blowing things up and destroying it. And I'm even convinced that some of this remote sensing could help in the issues of land minds, mapping large areas quickly. For instance, we've now flown an area of koala habitat where we've taken a picture of the trees and developed an algorithm which gives you the colours of the trees. So we could map large areas of koala habitat just looking for one or two trees. Which means you could map it over large areas cheaply, efficiently. You could give councils and counties certainty about whether it is or it isn't koala habitat - because that's the biggest problem. Land use and planning is so important. And you can do that all remotely, from the air, or indeed a satellite. We're just about to start trialing a satellite technology to see whether we can see individual trees from space. You imagine that. In fact, when someone told me that you could map 700km square in four minutes I just about burst into tears because we've taken ten years to map that sort of area. So the application of the technology is thrilling, but the technology then doesn't give you wise decisions, or information that people really want. That's my biggest challenge I think, is to try and convince people that the information is important.
A. One of the things I took away from our conversation the other night was the incredible lengths that you've gone to to get this information and then you provide it to councils and decision making bodies and oversite agencies, and they don't do anything.
D. No. That is the most frustrating thing. We've got this young man who's working in Port Stephens Council at the moment, where we've been mapping for five years. We put the finest maps in Australia there and he's living out the Crucible play. He's just been vilified. He has to go to public meetings where people accuse him of trying to be communist and take away their land. And that's not the intention at all. I am a private land holder. I love my land. And if my land was identified as something that someone wanted, then I'd fight very hard too. But this is not what this is about. Its just saying, is this koala habitat, who owns it, and are those people prepared to make the concessions necessary. As you know, I would. If my land came up koala habitat, crikey, I'd be thrilled. But some developer type may not. So we've got to arrange for that negotiation to continue and in the United States I've sat down with Nature Conservancy and some of the great conservations groups over there, to learn what incentives you have to give to private land holders, given that 80% of Australia's koalas live on private land. That is frustrating and that's where I do three spiritual weekends a year to try and make sense of it all - because you can delude yourself that people want the truth but I'm not sure they do because I think we're so greedy and we don't really want to have anything that stops us doing what we want. This job has allowed me to explore myself as well. And that's very important to me.
A. Let me go back, if I can, to the figures you believe are correct - 100,000 koalas. There are reputable scientists who think the number is significantly higher. How is it that you are in such strong disagreement with them. And there are people who say there are places where there are too many koalas. There have been talks about culling koalas, although I don't think anyone is talking about shooting koalas any more. But there is actually an active programme down on Kangaroo Island in the south to sterilise koalas because they are breeding too quickly.
D. I think this is a shame on our country. And those scientists who argued against me five years ago are now wanting to be friends because they are all recognising that the sterilisation programme and the translocation programme is not working. And I have never not acknowledged that we have problems on islands. We have over popoulation on islands. But if you look at a map of Australia those islands are the size of a dime. And so you can't extrapolate those problems to the rest of Australia where the koalas are declining, which is what the governments love to do. So I won't allow them to do that. And also the US government in their deliberations about wanting to list the koala - and they've said they would like to list the koala as threatened under the United States Endangered Species Act - they have dismissed some of these numbers as well because they're saying that the mistake a lot of these scientists make is that they see ten koalas in one spot and then say over 100 million acres there's going to be lots of, and they, in my view, miss the common sense approach that, gosh, half of that land's cleared. So, I've been to some of the transects of those scientists who, in my view, and some of them are young researchers, who make that mistake. And the US government, and some of the scientists I've met there, have actually said, we no longer take that approach. And I think this is where Australia is behind the eight ball. As I said, if I'm wrong, show me these millions of koalas. I'll happily to there. I've said to the Ministers, take me there. Show them. Because I've never met these people in the bush with me, or my scientists, or the field teams we've had.
We were in North Queensland recently. 3000 hectares, which is like 7-8,000 acres - we didn't find one koala pellet. Not one in a two week field trip. And we had American zoo keepers with us then. You ask those American zoo keepers then if there's millions of koalas in North Queensland and they'll tell you know.
A. And that's a place where one would have expected to find koalas.
D. Yes. Absolutely. And we went searching for them trying to find out what they ate and we didn't find one piece of koala poo. In fact, we had to go into a carer's home to show the Yanks that were with us because they couldn't find a koala in the wild.
A. And how big an area are you talking about?
D. 3000 hectares - about 8000 acres. (repeated at 16:03). So we had ten people, systematically crawling over that area in our scientific method. Not one koala pellet. So if the Minister came with us - and it wouldn't matter which part of Australia that any Minister said to me, pick this here, we'll go and have a look, our science would convince them. You only have to be in the bush about half a day, using that approach and you suddenly realise that the koalas are there, or they're not. And they're either in abundance, or they're low density, or whatever.
So I think what happens with a lot of researchers, even the eminent ones - and I respect them enormously - this is not an issue of disrespect. This is that half the time they tend to look at one site and they see it and have a bit of a jaundiced view. I'm one of those people who loves to have a look at the big picture and jigsaw puzzle it a bit and try and do a gap analysis, if you like, and I didn't realise that that, in a way, is a bit unique. Sometimes I think that people tend to get very focussed, and I annoy people because I think, well what about this area over here, and they say, well we haven't done the science there yet.
We don't have time for that. We just do not have time. So what I want to do is to rough mud map Australia. Quickly and efficiently and say where are the potential habitats left. And its actually quite do-able. Its only 2.5 million square miles - its only a little bit - and then I want to get a rough estimate of where the koalas habitat is. I want to slap some sort of legislation over that and say, until you can prove your impact on that land is benign, then you can't develop. So you prove to me, the Australian Government - see I think this should be a government responsibility, this isn't an EGO's job. So that's what drives me as well. I think, how appalling, in this day and age, with the technology we have, that our governments haven't been visionary enough about this.
A. How are you seen in the community - political community, environmental community, conservation community, research community.
D. I don't know. Over the years I've had great supporters and great detractors. When I negotiated a deal with a developer about having a koala friendly estate I ended up on 60 Minutes because one of the Green movement thought that I'd been absolutely bought off by this developer and that I was throwing the koalas to the wolves. I can confidently say that that development still has the original koalas on it; people are living there happy as Larry, and the children - in fact there was a couple just recently who came over the hill with their binoculars and they looked like they were on safari. This, to me, to be able to get animals and humans to live in harmony is what gives me joy. There's one of those developments in the whole of Australia and I ended up on 60 Minutes about it. So I suspect that a lot of people have very strong views about me. And again, on my spiritual weekends I learn not to let that effect me. I know my intimates who love me. And I've got lovely animals and dogs at home and they always love you don't they. So, scientific community -
The remote sensing community are an incredible lot - I love them. And I think they love the fact that I want to bring them to problems. The technology has been just there - in fact, their key note address at their conference in Ottawa last year was, we need the bridge to find solutions to problems that exist, but we don't know what problems we've got to solve. I felt, very much, that I fitted in there.
In the biological community, I'm not sure. I certainly have had some huge fights, and continue to do so. But interestingly enough they are starting to invite me back into those forums because I don't think the science is just working. Science doesn't solve the problems, as you and I both know. Its politics.
20:10 Kangaroo Island is a classic. The scientists said the animals should come off Kangaroo Island because they're ferrel. They were never there originally. That's actually the true scientific opinion. My view was that the politicians would never allow that to happen because half a million tourists go to that island - so they were so intent on making sure the tourism wasn't affected. So my view is that the minute we exploit the animal for money, for tourism or anything else, then we owe it. We owe it not to shoot it. We owe it to understand the complexities of what happened. If you go to Kangaroo Island its got sheep all over it. The water courses are damaged. It is a microcosm of the environmental damage of this country. I recommended a $10 levy on every tourist. Half a million tourists. $5 million. It would be used to fence the water systems. It would be used to revegetate the island. It would be used to educate the tourists, whatever. It basically got thrown out of town. They just thought it was Communist. How dare she recommend an economic solution like that that could threaten our tourist industry. If you were an overseas tourist would you mind if you got a koala tax badge for $10 that you knew was going to secure the island's future? In Africa it happens all the time. This is where my world travels, in a way, has given me more confidence too, because when you go to other countries and you realise that these are the things that are the solutions - again its only a matter of time who is going to say it.
22:00 End of Interview.
22:21 Ambient recording. Constant insects. Birds in BG. Dog in BG as well
23:27 electronic beep and 23:42
23:50 different insect buzz.
Grade for atmos: g
24:07 request for Debra to identify herself again.
24:15 My name is Debra Tabart and I'm Executive Director of the Australian Koala Foundation.
Chainsaw in BG.
Followed by atmos - with chainsaw throughout. But nice insects! And birds. (ng)
25:23 Segment Ends.
25:30 NEW SEGMENT - Interview with Paul O'Callagan - Curator, Lone Pine
A. Tell me who you are and how we should identify you.
P. My name is Paul O'Callagan (not spelt). I'm the Curator at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. I've been here now for 15 years. I started at the Sanctuary coming straight out of college and started here collecting leaves, cleaning toilets, hosing paths, handling koalas, giving public talks and about three years ago I became the Assistant Manager - not three years ago - three years after starting to work here I became the Assistant Manager and for about the last 12 years I've been the Curator.
A. What is Lone Pine Sanctuary.
P. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary - its obviously a focus on koalas. It's a place where now we have the world's largest captive colony of koalas. There are about 135 koalas and the motto of Lone Pine's always been '100 Cuddly Koalas'. So we've had this main focus on koalas right up until about five years when we started to diverge into other Australian species of wildlife. So now we're looking at about 120 species of animals including quite a good range of Australian parrots, a very, very good collection of Australian reptiles, which we hope to have on display very very shortly, and Australian birds as well. It's a wildlife sanctuary in the sense that we have a very beautiful, natural block of land here and we're not only looking after the animals we have in captivity, we're also trying to look after the land, revegetate it back to its original form, take out all the week species that are here and encourage the local wildlife back into the area, because we already have a few species of animals that are becoming very rare to find within the Brisbane area. They include things like bushstone curlews, mountain brushtail possums, just to name a couple.
A. This is how much land?
P. There's about 95 acres of land here at Lone Pine and about half of that at the moment is under plantation. We grow our own eucalyptus leaves for the koala population here. And to feed 130 hungry mouths is an enormous number of trees that are required. So we actually have four eucalyptus plantations upwards of about 45,000 trees.
A. What's the purpose of all this?
P. In a lot of ways we're a traditional wildlife park. And as such, with all wildlife parks and zoos over the last 20 to 30 years we've gone through stages of evolution in trying to identify exactly what our role is in society. And I guess what the role of having any animal in captivity is in society. For us, here, we're very comfortable with the idea that we try and give people something that they can't get from even the best documentary, and that is contact with the animals. And we're strong believers here that our main function as a wildlife park is education and we try and enhance that education by having human animal contact. And that's what we see what we're doing here as a vital part of society. I think most people in society have really lost touch with nature and they think that sitting at home watching a wildlife documentary is as good as it gets. What we're trying to do is encourage people to come back, get that contact with animals, and when it comes down to the fact that a certain block of land, or that particular species is under threat in the wild, if those people remember the experience they've had with that animal, or something similar they are more likely to act positively to save those species in the wild.
A. What about those people who would say, well its not a true nature experience to hold a koala, to cuddle a koala, because in the wild you would never cuddle a koala, koala's wouldn't let you.
P. No they don't, and I've caught quite a few wild koalas and I've got the scars to prove it. And they're not an animal that allows human contact in the world, so I think the situation where we have these captive, bred animals, its all about getting contact so that people can then emphasize with the species. If people saw wild koalas and thought, I want to touch that animal, and the animal turned around and scratched them, bit them, peed on them, which is what they do, they wouldn't want to conserve them. The whole image of dolphins and whales - about how wonderful they are - has really been created to a certain degree by the dolphinariums and oceanariums that have allowed the people to come in contact with those animals.
If you think about the image of koalas - cute and cuddly - that's really been created with wildlife parks and people coming in contact with creatures that are humanized and are used to that human contact. That may not be correct for the species in the wild, however, the implications for the species in the wild are positive because if people can relate to an animal - and it may be that cute and cuddly, or in the dolphins, aren't they intelligent and wonderful and playful - they are more likely to try and look after those animals in the wild. That's why people are so emotive about dolphins. And that's why in Australia, and even more so overseas, people are very emotive about koalas and about saving koalas in the wild. And a lot of that has come about from the image that has been created for the animal. And I see that that is something that we have done, as a wildlife park.
A. Do you have an opinion as to the number of koalas in the wild and what the situation is with koalas in the wild. We've talked to Debra and we've talked to other people and we know it's a subject of controversy.
P. As far as wild populations are concerned I'm really not in a position. I really wouldn't be comfortable commenting because I haven't done the research. However, from my own personal experiences of bush walking for the last 20 years in south-east Queensland, I know for a fact that huge areas of koala habitat are gone. Areas where I used to go and look at koalas in the wild are gone. And there's no longer koalas in those areas. There's also areas of what would look like suitable koala habitat where there are no koalas. (walkie talkie interruption) And I guess that also poses another question, when you look at the degree of hunting that occurred right up to 1927 where they talk about maybe 3 million pelts being presented and you look at the number of animals that are now in the wild, and I think the uppermost estimation is about 100,000. If you do that as a simple comparison you're really looking at a tiny percentage at what would have been here on the mainland anyway.
And I guess the real question for conservationists and environmental manager these days is how many is enough to say that this species is secure in the wild. I think to have a million koalas which is maybe only 30% of what was existence you would say was wonderful. Well we are talking about 1/10th of that and people are still saying, oh but they're ok, there's 100,000. Now that 100,000 is it going to get down to 10,000 before people say are we going to do something about this?
The other aspect to it all is is that we really don't understand the implications of maybe even changing the habitat on the social structure of koalas. And some of that work is only recently being done, by Steve Phillips, when he was working for the Australian Koala Foundation, to actually that even though the animals aren't really coming in contact with each other that regularly, they are aware of every individual within their home range, and every individual that fringes onto their home range, and they act accordingly. So in breeding season the females congregate in the one area, the dominant males home range overlaps the most number of females and he will patrol that area more often.
So there is still a lot of information about koalas we really don't understant. And so what we're doing now, even though we say there may be 100,000 animals, and that's ok, what we are doing now may actually implicate on that 100,000 and it may be more or less a population that is going to crash and crash heavenly in five or ten years because of what we're doing right now.
34:00 dialogue ended - tape rolling. Atmos.
BG insects and birds - dog barking intermittently throughout
35:10 Atmos ends (ok/g for general BG atmos)
1. What kinds of calls do they make, and why do they make them.
P. If you're looking at koalas I guess the call you hear them making has been compared to the sound of a pig grunting. To me it doesn't sound anything like a pig's grunt. Its more like a rumble, a very throaty sort of a call. The males mostly make that call and they mostly make that call during the breeding season which in the wild is running from about September through to April/May. The idea of it is that koalas are animals that work on two real ways of communication. One is by smell, one is by calling. And so the vocalising is very important for males to mark out a territory. The other way they do it of course, if you're talking about the smells, is they scent mark trees and they urinate on those trees. So you're talking about those two high levels of communication with koalas.
In the call - I'll imitate it a little bit, but you'll probably hear them calling later anyway, but its something like - Paul gives quite a good example, That's how it starts anyway and they can call for upwards of 2 minutes if a male has had a fight or something.
Paul asked to repeat the above - but it sounded ok to me.
That's how it starts and they can really ramble on depending on how vigorously the male's marking his territory. And really the main aim of it is to tell every other male, and the females, 'I'm here, this is mine.' That's really what its all about.
37:10 Interview ends
37:31 NEW SEGMENT - general chatter - ID at 44:40
Katrina Benge (not spelt), wildlife ranger at Moggill Koala Hospital, takes A&M on a tour
38:24 A woman introduces Alex and Peter ("He's the boss here") - A&M going on a tour. General chatter. - no other introductions
39:50 soft squeaky gate and footsteps
39:59 single cockatoo squawk amidst footsteps
40:18 Tour begins - Katrina explaining the site while walking around
K. We're in the clean section right now. Hopefully there are no diseases on this side. We keep all our orphan koalas on this side, so we keep them all separate. (bird squawking in MG) - followed by footsteps
40:52 clicking of gate
K. This is our kindegarten (several nice crunching footsteps with bird squawking)
A. I see you've got several trees here in the back of this big enclosed area, enclosed with wires and a lot of young koalas.
K. These are our babies that have been hand raised due to losing their mum from car, dog or disease. They get hand raised by carers that get specially trained and then when they become 2 1/2 kg they actually come into a half way house which we call the Kindy, before they go out into the wild - just so they get weaned from humans and bottles and they start toughening up before they go out to the real, cruel world.
A. This koala doesn't feel very tough
K. Just keep your hand under her bottom, she'll be fine. She's a sook. A softy.
A. This young koala when she saw us walk in she kind of climbed over on a branch that was a little closer to where I'd walked over to look at her and climbed out on the end of that branch, then reached out her forearms to me and climbed aboard. She's very soft. Got soft grey fur and I'd guess she weighs maybe 3 lbs and just a sweet little thing.
K. And her name is Bindi, because she has very sharp claws.
A. Now she's just over my shoulder the way you would burp a baby (interested in mic)
K. You could hold her for hours - she'll love it. She won't mind at all, unfortunately.
A. It's not a bad attribute to have.
K. Well its bad because she has to go out into the wild.
A. These animals will be reintroduced to the wild?
K. They will be released back to the wild. They have to be released back to the wild where they originate from. So if they come down from the Redlands - that's where her mother was killed - she will also go back to the Redlands where she came from. We don't relocate any koalas. Its just not necessary. We also found that if you relocate koalas they have a tendency of walking back home anyway so you have to take them back where they originate.
A. I'm sorry, we should have asked you, would you just say who you are and what you do here.
K. I'm Katrina Benge (not spelt) and I'm a wildlife ranger here at Moggill Koala Hospital.
A. How many of these young koalas do you have?
K. At this stage we only have three. We can hold up to 18 baby koalas here at one period of time and it gets quite full when you've got all these little babies running around in the morning wanting fresh leaf and you've got people coming in trying to feed them.
A. Alex takes Bindi over to Minoli.
M. They're so clean smelling.
K. It's the eucalypt,
A. So you don't bath them or anything?
K. That's just the way they are. They have very thick fur like a sheep. You know how a sheep when it gets wet, it gets wet on the outside but doesn't actually get wet down deep.
M. You should say that again. (Katrina actually sounds fine)
K. When a koala is in the wild¿no no no, never pick them up by¿ that's a pet hate. You just always pick them up by the hands, twist them, and they always have to have their feet landing on you, their hind feet. Because a koala always needs to have its feet on something hard, because they reach with their front arms the back legs always must stay on something firm. So you always pick them up by the front, whip them around really quickly and get their back feet onto you and then you just gently stop them, and they're fine.
M. So what's the first thing you do?
K. You always pick a koala up, only if they're tame, of course. But if they're wild you just completely leave alone. But you always just pick them up by their front arms.
L. Tell me again about the fur.
K. The fur is thick like sheep's wool. If a koala is in the wild and its raining fur layer of the fur on the top will be wet but down deep near the skin will actually be very dry. Its very, very thick and its got a slight oil coating on it so it won't absorb any of the water. So the koala will look wet but it'll actually be dry down deep, so the koala won't get cold.
M. They're very strong. They look so cute and cuddly but they're all muscle aren't they.
K. Pure muscle, yes.
Cockatoo in BG (ok)
K. Just lean your shoulder into her. (Katrina puts Bindi on M's shoulder).
Peter (Peter's ID is at 50:58, and another at 1:07:00 - surname is not spelt in either ID)
Quite often in zoos, what they'll do, because they use - they do this quite often for the tourist trade, and for the photos - and they'll actually nip off just the ends of the claws to stop that - people when they hold them, they will dig the claws in because its natural for a koala to want to hang on. We don't do it here because these animals are actually being, getting ready and conditioned for release so they need those needle sharp points to be able to climb trees, especially to a great height, where in zoos they don't need to climb that high.
50:10 They've all got different natures too. Unfortunately, this one is a very, very placid koala and she'll take a little bit longer to actually go back out in the wild. Some of them that are hand raised - Katrina probably explained that these are all hand raised orphans so the mothers have had some sort of a problem - and they, the foster parents hand raise them, and some of them come in here and they act nearly like a wild koala. You'll try and touch them and you'll end up with bites and scratches and everything else, where this one here is a little bit more humanised by the foster parent and will take a little bit longer to get released.
A. Could you begin by just saying who you are and what you do here.
Peter My name is Peter Thealaman (not spelt) and I'm a Wildlife Ranger in the Department but my main job, at the moment, is looking after the koala hospital.
A. How many patients do you have?
P At the moment we have 22 in hospital. That's without the kindergarten here, but we can house up to 59 koalas at any one time - that's the largest number we've ever had - depending on what sort of catastrophe has happened out there in the wild.
A. And what brings a koala here.
P. What brings a koala here is, well a number of different reasons. Disease to start with. Clamidia is probably the biggest number of cases that we have. Behind that would be cars - so road accidents. And then behind that would be dogs, and occasionally you'll have other things like, koalas, naturally, do fall out of trees while they're fighting. They will fall out of trees. We have got one in hospital at the moment that was here two years ago with clamidia, congunctivitis, had his eyes operated on, we fixed all that, sent him back out in the wild again, and now he's come back in with a sore shoulder because he was fighting with another male, and he lost out and hurt his arm. He'll take a little while before he goes back out in the wild again.
A. How do you know that that's what happened out there?
P. A lot of the time people will hear it. If you're out in the country or out in the bush - when koala's fight it is very vocal and there is a lot of screaming going on, and people who live down in the Redlands, because it is suburbia with a lot of koalas right in suburbia, will hear these noises. And they can actually either watch the koalas, the two males fighting, or even mating. Mating with koalas is not a very nice sight. Its more rape than anything else. The female doesn't really respond well to it. The male just chases her through the trees and wherever he catches her in the branches is actually where they will mate. And quite often the females will fall out of the trees. If, unfortunately, they've already got a decent size back riding baby on their back, quite often the male will knock that baby off the mothers back and it will fall. And that is cases like this when we then, if the baby isn't seriously injured from the fall, from a great height, our foster parents then hand raise them. Those sort of things do happen in the wild.
A. What do you think is the situation in the wild with koalas now. How big do you think the population is? Or do you know? Does anyone know?
P. We don't know for sure. There's an awful lot of guessing going on. Some people are saying that there's probably between 80,000-100,00 koalas left in Australia. Some of our studies show - because the east coast of Australia is still a big area to try and find and count koalas. Koalas are very hard to count in the wild anyway. What they do is an estimation of populations. The researchers will go in a certain area, they'll count the number of koalas to the actual size of the area and to the amount of vegetation - koala food trees that we know of in the area - and they'll do a rough estimation. Our own researchers estimate that we're still looking at least half a million koalas in Australia. But the numbers are going down very fast because of habitat destruction.
A. But you say that the koala can in suburban areas. Live among people.
P. They can live quite happily in amongst people. We've got koalas, for instance, down the Redland Bay area there's koalas that are living in trees that have been planted on the footpath, and those animals are living there their whole life because we have actually had them come in through minor injuries, through cars or dogs. Again, those animals will get an ear tag, they'll get a microchip and then we will then repair them and send them out in the wild again to the same place they came from. And they're coming back six years later. And of course, because they've got the microchip and the ear tag we know exactly who they are because of our records and they are showing that they are living on major roads, in suburbia, and doing quite fine.
A. Well if that's the case, then why are the animals so endangered.
P. Well the numbers are going down. There were a lot more of them. I'll give you another example. There is one road down in the Redlands at the moment, a road called Nay Road. Our researchers have gone in, There's acreage property on one side. They're all like five acre blocks that people live on. On the opposite side of the road was just Council land and it was sold off to the developers. Now the people - we know the people and talked to the people on that acreage properties where over the past years they would have counted one or two koalas on the properties at any one time, on their five acre block. Because of the development on the other side of the road, its been totally cleared. Absolutely, totally cleared with no normal habitation left whatsoever. And then, of course, people put houses in, planted domestic trees rather than the native trees. All the koalas have moved across to the other side where these people are now seeing seven and eight koalas in their five acre block, which means that all the koalas have got to go somewhere for food, and for space, and they're getting concentrated in those small areas. And again, because of the concentration, there is a fight for survival and fight for space, more disease break out, more animals on the move so you get more domestic dogs attacking them, and cars because they're crossing roads where they normally wouldn't have.
A. You work with the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service. So can you tell me what the koala means here in Australia?
P. Well the koala to us is an animal - we protect all native species - the koala is a bit more specialised because - we use the koala ourselves as - to give an example: if - there's a lot of people in Australia still think 'snakes'. Now there's an awful lot of people that like snakes, but there's an awful lot of people that think that the only good snake is a dead snake. You try to save habitat by using a snake or a lizard and you won't get very far. The koala is the only one - there was a major road that was going to go through the Redlands. A really major, four lane highway. Would have wiped out the population. The koala is the only animal that's ever stopped a road from being built through anywhere. And if you can save the habitat for koalas to live in, you save the habitat for a whole range of different species. So it means a great deal to us - as well as its an icon. Everyone thinks the koala - even though you wouldn't like to with a wild one, pick it up and do the cuddly cuddly thing, but it is still classed as a nice furry cute little animal.
A. They are that.
P. They are that but only the ones conditioned to it in the zoos. In the wild they can do some serious injuries.
A. What do you think is going to happen with koalas in five years, ten years, in Australia.
P. That is very hard to say. Our researchers are still working on that. We know now that there are some suburbs where, when the researchers first went in they were finding a good population of koalas. Again, because of habitat destruction, there are very few koalas in some suburbs. So habitat destruction of course, is the main - if they developed - we don't seem to do this is - the developers will go in, they'll flatten an area and then put houses in. If we selectively cleared those areas - unfortunately, a certain amount of koalas will probably get into difficulties. But if its done properly and everybody had a couple of trees in their back yard, you would end up with a nice, stable population. You could end up with a stable population. But unfortunately we don't - developers don't work that way.
A. These animals are not quite the same size but they do remind me of the American racoon which is an animal that lives in trees, an animal that's adapted very well to suburbia. You have to kind of get special lids on your trash cans to keep them from coming in. Is that the kind of future that you would hope for?
P. They're a bit more specialised than your racoon where your racoon, like you said, can get into rubbish bins. Your racoon is probably more like our brush tail possum. Now our brush tail possum you will find right in the middle of Brisbane. There's no trees, there's no nothing. There's no hollows for them to live in. They will live just in rooves, or empty little corners somewhere between buildings. They do get into the rubbish bins and they survive on that. Unfortunately the koala is a bit more specialised that than. Its food supply and the trees and probably number one on the list. But again, if you could, if everybody planted just one or two food tree species in their back yard, you would end up with a stable population. It would be a lot smaller than what it is now. But we could co-exist. If we done it properly.
End of Interview
1:00:54 chirping koala - Alex volunteers to hold the koala who is chirping to be picked up.
1:01:20 Peter: See - even though she wants someone to pick her up, instinct is still there. Noises (footsteps), rustling on the ground is danger to a koala. That means there's a predator there somewhere.
1:01:48 general chatter about the chirping koala - a new one called Morticia who is a new arrival and more reluctant than Bindi.
1:02:03 Peter: We hand raise roughly about 70 babies every year.
1:02:50 single koala chirp - an intermitten electronic beep in BG - not over chirp though
1:02:58 another chirp - and beep
Peter explains that the chirp is a call for her mother - new arrival, missing mum and foster parent environment.
A. How old is that koala?
P. Roughly about 14 months.
A. And where did she come from
P. Down the Redlands somewhere.
A. Do you know what happened to her mother? Why is she orphaned?
P. I'd have to look in the records for that.
She's eating gravel at the moment. They will eat dirt and gravel because at certain times of the year there are some sort of minerals that are lacking in their food supply in the trees and they will actually get down on the ground and make up for it by eating dirt.
They don't like their leaf. We have leaf cutters who cut leaf and they go out and pick beautiful blue gum, which is number one food supply for the koalas. It's the main favoured tree. But there's something with the leaf that the koala can smell and it doesn't like it. So they just refuse to eat it.
Peter picks up Morticia and holds her near the mic - she's got nothing to say now
1:05:10 Ambience - not announced
general BG bird calls - mostly crows (short caws) and general twitters.
Electronic beep intermittent throughout.
1:05:40 voices calling in BG
1:05;50 several footsteps in the gravel
1:06:02 drumming in BG? - brief
1:06:38 a breath, then several footsteps
1:06:43 end of ambience.
1:06:55 ID for Peter
1:07:00 Hello, I'm Peter Thelaman, and I'm a Wildlife Ranger with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, and I run the Koala Hospital.
END OF TAPE