Saturday, 16 January 2016

Koala island

Raymond Island is one of the best places to see the iconic marsupial koala up close in the wild - not a zoo. I am staying here for a few weeks at my parent's place for a 'slow holiday'. Today was a lovely surprise - two koalas came running onto our block and stopped just close to us.  One of them stayed on the ground, then low in the tree for quite a long chat before it headed up to join it's friend.

Koala in our garden on Raymond Island

Now as I am writing I can hear the nocturnal activities of the koalas around the neighbourhood.  They have a most alarmingly loud sounds for such a cute-looking animal - both the grunting sound of the males and the high pitched screeching of the females.

Back in the 1950s, my gran identified that Raymond Island was a good place for koalas - my Dad's family was living here for a number of years.  The Manna Gum forests here provided a favourite food for the koalas - they have a the taste for quite particular types of eucalypt leaves. There are big areas of the Manna Gum forest in crown land reserves adjacent to the little Raymond Island township. 

The Koala used to be found up and down the east coast of Australia in large numbers. However by 1925 with European colonisation, clearing, hunting for fur, fire and disease, the Koala was almost extinct.  Apparently between 1919 and 1924 eight million koalas were killed across Australia - mostly hunted for fur.  Now, the koala is mostly threatened by domestic dogs, vehicle traffic, but by far the biggest threat to the koala is habitat loss. 

In Victoria, Island refuges were sought to protect the koalas. Phillip Island was one of those places, then later Raymond Island. By the 50's the population of Koalas on Phillip Island, closer to Melbourne, had grown too large and were needing to be relocated.  Bessie Gamble, my gran, petitioned Fisheries and Wildlife to have them brought here to Raymond Island. On September 25, 1953, a small population of 32 koalas was introduced. There are now around 400 on the island. There are other colonies around the state.

The koala population is thriving now in Victoria after 95 years of active conservation efforts. Raymond Island volunteers are have done great work to protect and restore the koala habitat here. Over the years I have been coming here, I've noticed significant improvements in the state of the forest.  All around our block too, my mum planted koala trees to help add to the habitat value.

Usually there is at least one koala on my parent's block and I often go walkabout into the neighbouring forest with my eyes cast upward to the treetops - I've become quite the koala spotter over the years. Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved coming here chatting with the koalas. Every year we come here - sometimes for a week, sometimes a month.


This friendly little Koala stayed for quite a long chat before he climbed safely up higher.
I hear koalas every now and then in the far distance behind my home at Crystal Waters in Queensland, but in the 18 years I have lived there I have only ever seen just one koala. In Queensland they are considered vulnerable. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates in Australia there are less than 80,000 remaining, possibly as few as than 43,000.

What I love about our slow holidays here on the Island is that the kids really get to deeply know this place, the species and environment. They are not 'doing' Raymond Island - they feel part of it, connected to it. We are on holidays, but the learning, exploration and inquisitiveness does not stop.

Maia and Hugh were delighted to see a koala so close today. We've been spotting them up in the trees for over a week - lots of babies too. They have been coming here since they were babies and have become great koala lovers too.



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