You Yangs region Master Plan: Our response

You Yangs region Master Plan: Our response

1. Summary

The You Yangs Region has a proven track record as a significant, sought after destination for international travellers seeking high quality wildlife experiences. Currently over 10,000 international travellers visit the region each year to see, enjoy and help conserve wildlife in the wild!

A recent Branding Strategy commissioned by Tourism Greater Geelong and the Bellarine identified numerous stand-out assets the region offers including “the all natural exhilaration of a ‘wild and free’ oasis of (Australian) experiences, just a stone’s throw from the city.”

You Yangs on National Geographic Channel

The You Yangs Regional Park and Serendip Sanctuary are the major drawcards for this type of tourism yet both places are vastly undervalued for their potential to drive economic growth and community security in the region.

Recent research (1) shows that sustainably-managed Wildlife Tourism can be a major driving force in drawing local communities together, bringing respect for the environment coupled with consistent and reliable economic growth.

This document describes how the region can become an iconic Wildlife Tourism destination bringing high yielding, low impact visitors to Geelong, Victoria and Australia, thereby bringing pride, respect and income into the region.

A Conservation and Wildlife Tourism Zone and associated Tourism Hub have been identified as the best technique for bringing the region into focus as a Wildlife Tourism destination.

Aboriginal People continue to see the You Yangs as highly significant to their lives. Using our experience working with local Aboriginal People we have touched upon a few ideas that will include the Aboriginal Community in the ongoing process of defining the future of the region. NB – Our suggestions must been seen as requiring significant Aboriginal input and are included as a starting point only.

Finally, we have dealt with the impacts of Climate Change and suggested ways in which even this can be used to improve the offering that the You Yangs region can give the world.

We ask that Parks Victoria and the Project Control Group see this submission as a completely achievable plan to place the You Yangs region on the international stage thereby giving the region and the people who live in it a clearly-defined pathway to an exciting, profitable and sustainable future.

Echidna Walkabout Pty Ltd
September 2019

The Terms of Reference for the project can be found here. 

Our public request for submissions can be found here.

………………….

DOCUMENT CONTENTS:
1. Summary
2. Overview – International Wildlife Tourism & Conservation
3. BRANDING : Serendip and the You Yangs
4. Wildlife Tourism Hub – Major Upgrade to the Toynes Road Entrance
5. Community Ownership – the Koala Clancy Foundation
6. Climate Change
7. Aboriginal Culture & Tourism
8. Linking the You Yangs & Serendip
9. LINKS, NOTES & REFERENCES: importance of Wildlife Tourism to local communities and economies

APPENDIX 1: YOU YANGS
APPENDIX 2: SERENDIP

You Yangs on Ray Mears TV UK
You Yangs koalas featured on a series of UK wildlife documentaries in 2017

_____________________________

2. Overview – International Wildlife Tourism & Conservation

This document was created by Echidna Walkabout as a guideline to GHD Advisory for the You Yangs Region Master Plan. In it we suggest important changes to the way that You Yangs Regional Park and Serendip Sanctuary are managed to increase the region’s potential for economic development through International Wildlife Tourism linked to other strategies. At the apex of this concept is the creation of a Conservation and Wildlife Tourism Zone  A map of the proposal can be viewed here.

We have dealt with specific details in the body of this submission however in this Overview we highlight issues we believe urgently need addressing in the region to allow for sustainable growth through Branding, a Wildlife Tourism Hub, Community Ownership, Climate Change, Aboriginal Culture, a physical link between Serendip and the You Yangs.

Solid supporting international reference works are provided at the end of this Overview in 9. LINKS, NOTES & REFERENCES.

__________________________________

3.  BRANDING: Serendip Sanctuary and the You Yangs

These two parks must be seen as inextricably linked not only due to their close proximity but also as they provide complementary attractions that reinforce the Brand Strategy for the region as defined only last year by the You Yangs Region Destination Promise for Tourism Greater Geelong and The Bellarine.

You Yangs Serendip on USA TV
Watching wild kangaroos at Serendip with Oprah Winfrey’s TV team in 2015

The branding paraphrased the region’s ‘offer’ as:

The You Yangs and surrounds offer the all natural exhilaration of a ‘wild and free’ oasis of (Australian) experiences, just a stone’s throw from the city.

The region must therefore become:

Victoria’s natural oasis in the urban jungle. A picturesque, untainted and
genuinely filmic region of Australia where native habitats, wildlife, cultures and communities, remain free to thrive and share their stories.

The defining principles of the brand are:

  • providing a natural oasis within easy reach of the Melbourne and Geelong.
  • wild and free connections to nature
  • ecological care and commitment to preservation (including responsible development)
  • a window into ancient and living/thriving indigenous culture

Using this Brand Strategy let’s turn to a plan that will help the brand become reality.

________________________________

4. Wildlife Tourism Hub – Major Upgrade to the Toynes Road Entrance

The region requires a focus point: wildlife tourism can provide that focus. The proposed upgrade to the Toynes Road access on the eastern side of the You Yangs recognises the significance of this section of the park to wildlife conservation and wildlife tourism.

We believe this ‘hub’ will:

  • significantly raise the profile of the region for wildlife tourism
  • provide urgently needed facilities for conservation and wildlife tourism
  • help control vandalism in this section of the park
  • allow better access for emergency vehicles into the park

This document outlines a technique for creating the Hub (see APPENDIX 1C. Access & Wildlife Tourism Hub below)

________________________________

You Yangs Koala Clancy on Australia instagram
The You Yangs’ most famous koala: Clancy on Australia’s instagram for Wild Koala Day 2018

5. Community Ownership: the Koala Clancy Foundation

Echidna Walkabout and our not-for-profit Koala Clancy Foundation, have been deeply involved in protecting, monitoring and conserving koalas in the You Yangs.

We have estimated that, at an absolute minimum, each koala in the You Yangs is worth $20,000 to tourism in the region.

Each tour gains insights and valuable research on the koalas in the park which is used to help understand the conservation needs of these marsupials. This research has allowed the Koala Clancy Foundation (KCF) to identify required conservation efforts for the ongoing protection of these very valuable animals.

A number of years ago KCF reached out and invited the local community to be involved in a major conservation, boneseed removal and tree planting program in and around the You Yangs. The response has been far more than we could ever expected with both townsfolk and farmers becoming involved. As a result:

  • Ninety percent of established noxious weed, Boneseed – a weed of national importance, has been removed in the 100 hectare Branding Yard area.  The secondary regrowth is now being targeted.  It is estimated that 1.5 million weeds have been removed by this program.
  • 7,500+ native trees have been planted by Koala Clancy Foundation in partnership with Melbourne Water along streams and rivers on the plains surrounding the You Yangs – these allow koalas access to high quality food sites and ensure the future of the species in the region.
  • Pride is growing in the region with regular highly-attended, booked-out Koala Conservation Days. The growth in attendance has increased exponentially with both locals and corporate involvement from companies including KPMG, Aesop, the Australian Defence Force, Get Lost Travel Group, Venture Advisory, Pearson Educational Publishing, British American Tobacco; and educational groups from Wyndham City Council, Albert Park College, Emmaus College, Deakin University, Rowville High School, Monash University and RMIT.
  • International support has come from unique sources including large financial contributions from some of the world’s largest cruise ship companies and numerous wholesale travel companies

We will continue with this very important outreach to the community with the clear aim of giving local people ownership of the koalas in the You Yangs.

community group volunteering YOu Yangs
Local community volunteer group in the You Yangs

map showing boneseed removal in You Yangs

tree planting by community volunteers near You Yangs
Native tree planting at Wurdi Youang by Koala Clancy Foundation volunteers

_______________________________

6. Climate Change

Over the past 20 years we have witnessed a dramatic downturn in the following natural systems in the You Yangs region:

  • Stream flows have reduced dramatically eg. Lake Serendip was usually full or had at least some water in it, now it is dry most of the time; waterholes and streams in the You Yangs that were reliable now rarely contain water,
  • Koala numbers in the You Yangs have plummeted by 46% in the decade 2007 to 2017 and continue to decline.
  • Vegetation is dying back or disappearing especially in the You Yangs. River Red Gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis, a long-lived species, and koala’s most preferred food tree in the You Yangs, is dying and declining across the Park.
  • Birds of dry schlerophyll woodlands are declining – particularly parrots, hollow-nesters including Laughing Kookaburras, Brown & White-throated Treecreepers; finches, insectivores including Scarlet Robin & Jacky Winter, and woodland specialists like Black-chinned Honeyeater & Yellow Thornbill.  See BirdLife Australia State of Australian Birds. 
  • Average day and night temperatures are increasing and annual rainfall is reducing
  • Extreme multi-day heat events are increasing and are having a serious impact on wildlife that stuck within the boundaries of the You Yangs park. This is particularly noticeable amongst arboreal mammals (koalas and possums) and smaller bird species
  • The Millennium Drought had an influence on the biodiversity of the region and there is reason to believe that complete recovery will not occur.
River Red Gum tree comparison 2008 to 2015 climate change killing trees
The same River Red Gum tree in the You Yangs 2008 to 2015. Many mature trees in the You Yangs have experienced similar climate change-induced dieback.
Koala decline graph You Yangs
Decline of wild koalas in one You Yangs research area over 11 years.

These are all the signs of Climate Change as predicted by the IPCC and are very concerning for the future of the You Yangs region, in particular with wildlife tourism.

The Climate Council of Australia’s recent report: Icons at Risk: Climate Change threatening Australian Tourism is a sobering investigation of major risks to tourism caused by higher temperatures, major shifts in weather patterns, lower rainfall over much of Australia, species loss and extinction and other factors.

Another issue which is of growing significance to inbound tourism is the carbon cost of international flights. ‘Flight shaming’ is a growing concern to international travellers ie, if you travel long distances by air you can be seen as a ‘carbon emitter’ or ‘carbon hog’ which is becoming more of a concern to many travellers, especially those from Europe and Scandinavia.

Recent Climate Strike marches across the world are a powerful indicator of the way people are feeling about human-induced increases in CO2 emissions. On tours our passengers often want to know what we are doing to reduce our emissions and care for the environment.

At Echidna Walkabout we are showing leadership with our “Conservation Travel: Help nature while you enjoy it” initiatives; plus we help resolve these issues in the following ways:

  • Koala Clancy Foundation & Echidna Walkabout are helping to recover damaged public land and vegetation, through weed removal and tree planting. Tree planting not only provides habitat for wildlife, but also these trees act as a carbon sink ie. they can be used as a carbon offset. Tour participants become directly involved in restoring koala habitat whilst on tour thereby assisting directly with koala conservation and adding value to the local economy by ensuring that koalas will continue to draw tourism dollars into the region in the future.
  • The high yielding international Wildlife Tourism market tends to reduce rather than increase numbers on a tour (2). As Melbourne and Geelong expand the You Yangs region is in danger of being ‘loved to death’ by visitors. Visitor numbers to the region have exploded over the past 10 years, doubling in some years. We advocate for fewer visitors, paying more for goods & services, staying longer and bringing higher benefit to the region, in terms of income and reduced impact on the parks and CO2 emissions.
  • In the Branding Yard area a water point was set up a number of years back to test if it can assist in supporting wildlife especially during extreme multi-day heat events.  This water point is filled by Echidna Walkabout staff on a weekly basis. We can show that wildlife is using this water point and that it is assisting the survival of both mammals and birds. This idea comes directly out of similar ideas in African national parks and should be expanded in the You Yangs.
  • Wildlife Tourism will assist the You Yangs region deal with Climate Change (3). This provides a significant and unique marketing identity for the region as it fits in well with people’s desire to travel responsibly and with the Brand Strategy discussed earlier.

________________________

7. Aboriginal Culture & Tourism

For the entire 26 year existence of Echidna Walkabout we have worked closely with Aboriginal People. Before the business began, we gained approval from the local elders of the Wathaurong People to operate in their region. Our operations were carefully monitored by them before they gave approval to our operations in 1993.

Since that time we have worked closely with the local Aboriginal community and have employed, and continue to employ, Aboriginal People as guides, drivers, koala researchers and as Aboriginal interpreters. We have also been involved in Aboriginal Employment forums in Geelong.

We have a meaningful ongoing relationship with a number of local Aboriginal People. One specific example of our work with the Aboriginal Community over many years is at the Wurdi Youang site on the plains east of the You Yangs where the Koala Clancy Foundation has planted thousands of trees along the Little River by invitation and in collaboration with the managers of that very important ceremonial site.

7a. Wurdi Youang

This site is extremely important and has significant potential to attract cultural tourism to the region. A number of detailed reports have been produced that detail how the site could be used for tourism, learning and training activities. We urge you to consider this information and suggest that a union between international wildlife tourism and Aboriginal tourism would be a big win for the region. We have shown that this type of collaboration works and endorse any action that increases respectful enhancement of Aboriginal tourism in the You Yangs region.

7b. Aboriginal employment opportunities

Great potential exists in the region for employment of Aboriginal People as follows:

  • Educators & Guides : we employ local Aboriginal People as Guides, Researchers and Educators. We’d like to see these activities expand so that Aboriginal People can continue to be trained into tourism.
  • ‘Bush Rangers’ : a support group could be set up to train Aboriginal People as Bush Rangers (ie Bush Guides). These people would learn about cross-cultural interpretation from both Indigenous and non-indigenous people. Along with existing Indigenous Knowledge these Bush Rangers would become both important interpreters of the You Yangs as well as a behind-the-scenes support team. Similar programs to this have worked in Kakadu National Park with some people working behind the scenes and others working with visitors.
  • Wildlife Research : we currently employ Koala Researchers, some of whom are Aboriginal People, to monitor and provide important field information on koalas identification, movements and home ranges in the You Yangs. This work is ongoing and significant and must continue.

We believe that Parks Victoria is well placed to assist with a Bush Ranger program that would help visitors to appreciate and understand the cultural significance of the You Yangs to Aboriginal People. This program would significantly enhance the current tourism offers into the region and would would also be a significant stepping stone for tours emanating out of Wurdi Youang.

_________________________________

8. Linking the You Yangs & Serendip Sanctuary

Various ideas and proposals have been put forward regarding a physical link or corridor between the You Yangs and Serendip Sanctuary. In the context of the You Yangs Region there is no doubting that this corridor is needed both for people and for wildlife. Here are our suggestions:

8a. Wildlife Corridor

A wildlife corridor should be created along the watercourse that runs out of the You Yangs just east of the Main Entrance to the park and southward to enter Serendip Sanctuary just west of the rear entrance gate on Plains Road.  Trees planted along watercourses are most likely to survive and provide refugia for wildlife.

A 50 metre wide corridor planting of native trees and shrubs (local to that area) could be planted along the watercourse.

Negotiations for the creation of the corridor would be carried out by the City of Greater Geelong and the planting done and maintained by the local community. Koala Clancy Foundation would be happy to help.

Special attention would need to be made to facilitate wildlife crossings at Plains and Branch Roads.

8b. Human Corridor

The corridor for human movement between the two parks could be combined with the Wildlife Corridor but should only be on the edge of the corridor (not in the middle) and only be for walking as bike riding may not be conducive to protecting wildlife.

Another option would be to create a bike path along Flinders Avenue.
_________________________

9. LINKS, NOTES & REFERENCES:

(1) The World Bank : Growing Wildlife-Based Tourism Sustainably: A New Report and Q&A (2018)
BRIEF
“While wildlife and biodiversity are increasingly threatened by habitat loss and a lack of funding for protection, nature-based tourism is on the rise and could help provide solutions for these issues.
The publication Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods through Wildlife Tourism highlights successful wildlife tourism programs in seven countries in Africa and Asia that can be used as models to promote conservation and boost economies.
World Bank lead economist Richard Damania answers questions on the drivers, innovations and challenges for wildlife tourism, and why the World Bank Group and governments should support sustainable tourism strategies.”

FULL ARTICLE:  https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2018/03/01/growing-wildlife-based-tourism-sustainably-a-new-report-and-qa

..

(2) United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO): Towards Measuring the Economic Value of Wildlife Watching Tourism in Africa (2015)
Relevant Extract – page 3
“The exercise has also been successful in identifying key indicators related to wildlife watching tourism that assist in measuring the segment’s economic importance and potential growth. For instance, a typical wildlife watching tour involves on average a group of six people, lasts 10 days, has an average daily price per person of US$ 433 and captures an additional US$ 55 in out-of-pocket expenses per person, per day. The findings also indicated the differences between standard and luxury segments with the greatest variation being in both average daily price per person per day (US$ 753 for a luxury package and US$ 243 for a standard package) and in out-of-pocket expenditures (US$ 59 for a traveller on a luxury package and US$ 44 per person per day on a standard package). Little variation was found between the segments related to the size of the group or the average length of stay which seem to be consistent characteristics of the wildlife watching product instead of factors directly related to the comfort of the experience”

FULL ARTICLE: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/1882unwtowildlifepaper.pdf

..

 

(3) The World Bank: Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods through Wildlife Tourism (2018)
ABSTRACT
Tourism is an engine for jobs, exports, and investments. The tourism sector is also the largest, global, market-based contributor to financing protected area systems. Nature-based tourism (NBT) is a sub-component of the tourism sector that includes wildlife-based tourism. NBT is a powerful tool countries can leverage to grow and diversify their economies while protecting their biodiversity, and contributing to many sustainable development goals (SDG). Local communities, private sector enterprises, and governments can also benefit from investments in tourism through increased market opportunities and linkages to tourism services such as agriculture production, hoteling, restaurants, transportation, health services, etc. This report explores innovative tourism partnership and investment opportunities to help countries unlock smart investment and grow tourism sustainably. It showcases sustainable wildlife tourism models from Botswana, India, Kenya, South Africa and many other countries and promotes solutions that offer insight into the wildlife based tourism sector as a mechanism for inclusive poverty reduction and global conservation.

FULL ARTICLE: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1BLmgaOCVPZRl_snTtxgzZdeZSmD149XO/view?usp=sharing

..

(4) United Nations Environment Program (UNEP): Building a Wildlife Economy (2019)
EXTRACT
“Recent decades have seen strong “country brands” emerge where nature, and nature-based tourism, are used to promote national values, appeal to investors, and generally increase the country or region’s international profile. Growth in tourism is typically accompanied by better economic performance overall: those countries with well-developed tourism sectors score better in a range of economic metrics including Foreign Direct Investment, exports, and employment. The positive perceptions that nature-based tourism branding generates therefore represent an important opportunity for African countries [and other countries] to market themselves to the world, and deliver a wider economic and political agenda.”

FULL ARTICLE: https://spaceforgiants.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Building-Africas-Wildlife-Economy-Space-for-Giants-Working-Paper-1.pdf

— End Overview —
______________________________

The following two appendices deal separately with specific concepts for both the You Yangs and Serendip

..

APPENDIX 1: You Yangs

1a. Conservation & Wildlife Tourism Zone

We have proposed a Conservation and Wildlife Tourism Zone for the You Yangs. See map:

You Yangs proposed wildlife tourism conservation zone map

We suggest the following general principles for the management of this Zone:

  • The Zone should be managed with the express intention of securing the long term biodiversity of native wildlife and vegetation in the Zone allowing high quality international wildlife tourism to be carried out in the Zone
  • The Zone will be widely promoted in the region as a source of ongoing economic benefit to the region through employment and services to the tourism and associated industries. Wildlife should be promoted as an asset that needs protection if it is to produce viable economic outcomes (2)
  • Dog walking will continue to be allowed but all dogs MUST be on a leash and controlled. Special signage should be increased in the zone to explain the reasons for dog control.
  • In the Branding Yard section (inside the locked BYR gates) all human access will be on foot except for vehicles operated by LTO’s, PV and emergency vehicles.
  • No bikes or biking events in the Branding Yard section and no additional bike tracks within the entire Zone.
  • At least 3 artificial waterholes/sites be identified and located in the Branding Yard area and one in the Fawcetts Gully area (similar to sites found in wildlife tourism zones in east and southern African national parks that recognise that wildlife that has been cut off from movements by farming, clearing and other activities often require intervention in the form of artificial water sources.)
  • A major ongoing effort be undertaken to reduce goat and other feral animals in the Zone with particular attention placed on foxes and cats regardless of whether they re-infest.
  • Continuing eradication of Boneseed and other noxious weeds
  • Only low impact wildlife tours will be allowed in the Zone
  • A maximum number of LTO’s allowed access to the Zone
  • LTO’s may need to provide evidence of their conservation credentials/ethics to gain access to the Zone

1b. Gateway Towns – Lara and Little River

We have identified the east and south side of the You Yangs as having the greatest potential for wildlife tourism in the region. As such we therefore believe that the region requires town-based hubs as the proposed gateways to wildlife tourism. Both Little River and Lara are strong candidates for these hubs with Little River probably best located to act as the primary hub to the You Yangs east face and Lara to Serendip and the south face of the You Yangs.

These two towns are very different and are in separate Council areas which can be of benefit to both towns. Each will have different reasons and potential outcomes for being involved in Wildlife Tourism and each can gain significantly by being involved. It has been shown in a number of countries that the creation of protected wildlife tourism zones (be they publicly or privately operated) has a significant economic and social benefit to the wider community. (4)

1c. Access & Wildlife Tourism Hub

The main access to the You Yangs at present is the entrance off Branch Road. In the interests of increasing the park’s ability to handle international wildlife tourism here are our suggestions:

1c.1. Toynes Road Entrance upgrade

The Branding Yard area of the You Yangs is a significant and growing wildlife tourism precinct. We have proposed that this area become part of a Conservation and Wildlife Tourism Zone. Toynes Road gives direct access to this area and to some of the best wildlife in the wild viewing opportunities in the Melbourne/Geelong region. This is a brief outline of how this entrance can be upgraded to both increase the quality of wildlife tourism and reduce vandalism in this section of the park:

  • Work with City of Greater Geelong to upgrade Toynes Road to allow for better all-weather access to the Toynes Rd gate – ie. stabilise and upgrade the camber of the road surface, improve and upgrade culverts and drainage etc.(NB. roadside vegetation along Toynes Rd is important bird habitat; roadworks should minimise impact on this vegetation)
  • Also CoGG should assist with the creation of a new public carpark on the outside of the park in close proximity to Toynes Rd main gate (see 1h. Carparks)
  • Create a Tourism Support Hub (TSH) inside the park near the junction of the Toynes Road, Great Circle Drive and Branding Yard Road (north entrance). This TSH would be behind the existing locked gate at the entrance to Branding Yard Road north (not to be confused with the Toynes Rd gate) and would contain:
    – A picnic area (see 1f. Picnic areas)
    – A vehicle parking area suitable for mini coaches (see 1h. Car Parks)
    – A new toilet facility (see 1e. Toilets)
    The TSH would have two main zones:
    – one zone would be for licenced tour operators (and designated thus by signage)
    – the other zone would be for the general public
    – the toilet facility would be for both types of users
  • The Branding Yard Rd north gate would only be accessible by LTO’s, PV and emergency vehicles
  • If possible implement a new access gate system similar to the Branch Road Main Entrance gate at Toynes Road with access by phone number – the existing gate is very cumbersome
  • Continue to allow access to the Toynes Rd gate only to keyholders not to the general public.
  • Install a new pedestrian/bike access gate into the park at this entrance.

1c.2. Cressy Gully Road entrance upgrade

Cressy road is underutilised and could become a significant entrance to the park as it gives access to Great Circle Drive at an earlier point than Toynes Rd. An upgrade to this entrance, and the road itself (see Roads), would allow better access to the whole eastern side of the park. It would also facilitate easy access for Indigenous tours moving between Wurdi Youang and the eastern side of the You Yangs. Here are a few suggestions:

  • The entrance gate off Drysdale Rd should be closed for use (except by PV staff).
    Access to Cressy Gully should be re-routed via a locked gate accessible from the Drysdale Road Carpark. This gate should remain accessible to key holder only.
  • The gate at the junction of Cressy Gully Road and Great Circle Drive is dangerous. A flat stopping area for vehicles should be constructed on Cressy Gully Rd so that vehicles can stop temporarily while the gate is opened. This gate should remain locked and accessible only to keyholders.

 

1d. Roads

Roads in the park are in urgent need of upgrade and repair. Verges on the main entrance road/Turntable Drive are eroding badly and potholes form regularly after heavy rain. The same applies to Big Rock Road. Repairs and widening to the tarmac on both these roads should be a priority. Maximum speed on all roads in the park should be 40kph. Signage should point out the reason for speed controls with emphasis placed on the protection of wildlife assets living in the park. Other roads that we are interested in are discussed below:

1d.1 Great Circle Drive (GCD)

  • Any upgrades should be designed to ensure that the maximum speed on the drive is no greater than 40kph. This will ensure that wildlife is protected from car strike – this is particularly important in regards to koalas.
  • Signs should be erected to advise drivers to look out for wildlife and to advise of penalties for speeding
  • GCD should remain one way from the current start and finish points (NB suggestion below re updated access to the park from Toynes Rd and via Cressy Gully Rd
  • Cycle races must not be carried out on GCD

 

1d.2 Branding Yard Road (BYR)

This road is an important wildlife viewing access road

  • Vehicle access to BYR should remain limited to selected key holders
  • Maximum speed should be 20kph
  • Two way traffic should still be allowed on this road for it to be used successfully as a wildlife viewing road (I can provide reasons for this if required).
  • New gates should be installed at either end of BYR (see also 1c. Access & Wildlife Tourism Hub)
  • BYR requires very little upgrade except for the sloped section near the Bunjil Geoglyph, some general maintenance of drains and gutters and some very minor tree lopping to allow vehicles to move along the road
  • Maximum vehicle passenger capacity on BYR should be 25 people
  • No competitive bike riding should be allowed along Branding Yard Road

1d.3 Cressy Gully Road (CGR)

This road is currently highly vulnerable to erosion during heavy rain but could also be a valuable access point both for Wildlife Tours and Indigenous Cultural Tours

  • Consolidation and drainage works could improve the quality of CGR with some possible minor configurations/alignment also required
  • Access gates at either end of this road require attention as they are both dangerous and awkward to use (see Access). The gate allowing access onto GCD is particularly dangerous as vehicles must stop on a steep slope while drivers open the gate
  • Access should remain to authorised keyholders only

1e. Toilets

Conveniences in the park are at a very low state of repair with urgent upgrades and repairs required plus the establishment of a new toilet. These changes will bring the park into alignment with requirements by major cruise ship companies and tour operators as well as provide the general public with better and more hygienic facilities.

1e.1 Existing facilities

  • The Visitor Centre toilet should be replaced with a modern facility with a minimum of 6 women’s cubicles, a significantly larger men’s urinal and at 3 cubicles
  • The toilets at Kurrajong Picnic Area MUST be replaced urgently – quite simply they are a disgrace and a major health hazard. Water should also be supplied to these toilets if possible
  • The Big Rock toilet is relatively new and seems to be coping reasonably well
  • The Lower Picnic Ground toilet should be replaced with a similar structure to the one suggested for the Visitor Centre as it is a site visited by many people.
  • The Turntable Carpark facility needs and overhaul and possible upgrade as it does not appear to be able to cope with the large amount of traffic it receives
  • The Valley Picnic Ground toilet could do with an upgrade too

1e.2 Proposed new facility

Assuming that we enter the park from Toynes Rd (which we do): due to the one way direction of GCD we cannot stay longer than about an hour in the Branding Yard area before we need to head over to the Turntable area for passengers to find bathroom relief – we are then unable to return to Branding Yard without travelling around GCD. It’s worth noting here that the entire eastern side of the park has no bathroom facilities.

We therefore propose that a new bathroom facility be built at the following two locations:

  • Near the northern entrance to Branding Yard Road. This facility would be of a high quality and similar to the one at the Visitor Centre but with 3 cubicles for women, a urinal and 1 cubicle for men.
  • A second facility should be built near the location of a new picnic area in the Branding Yard Rd vicinity – if this picnic area is located near the north entrance to Branding Yard Rd a second toilet would not be required.

1f. Picnic areas

Picnic areas generally in the You Yangs are in urgent need of attention and upgrading. These are the key changes that we propose:

1f.1 Existing

The Kurrajong facility should be used as a basis for the design of other picnic areas. The tables and hard surface make the area very easy to use and the roof allows it to be used in most weather conditions. Similar set ups of a lesser and/or greater size should be created at the following locations – all should be roofed:

  • Big Rock Picnic Ground (possibly two at this location as it is heavily used)
  • Yellow-Gum Picnic Ground
  • Turntable Car Park??
  • Fawcetts Gully. Rotten and damaged picnic tables must be replaced urgently
  • The facility in the Lower Picnic Ground should be upgraded and duplicated.
  • The Valley Picnic Ground is one of the most beautiful in the park and could do with a significant upgrade both to the picnic tables themselves and to the toilet block. More trees and shrubs could be planted in the VPA. A larger groups picnic table with roof could also be placed in this area

Fireplaces should be removed entirely to protect the You Yangs from fire (we have extinguished numerous unattended fires in fireplaces in the You Yangs over the years)

1f.2 New Picnic areas – Branding Yard

Toynes Gate – Branding Yard: A significant picnic area should be created in a location close to Toynes Road entrance to the park. This would be roofed, set in a pleasant location and capable of seating 20 to 40 people under a roof (or roofs). The set up would be designed to:

  • accommodate small scale tour operations
  • have a nearby toilet
  • have a carpark big enough to accommodate minibuses
  • preferably have a watering point

A smaller ‘basic’ picnic area for 10 to 20 people should be created near the waterholes near the junction of Branding Yard Rd and Saddleback Track. This would also be roofed but would not require a toilet and would also be designed for tour groups.

1g. Cafe/food outlets

Some consideration and much debate has gone on over many years into whether a cafe or similar commercial outlet should be opened in the You Yangs. It is our contention that this would be possible as long as it is located directly inside the Branch Road entrance to park on the east side of the entrance road between the Duck Ponds School and Branch Road. The Duck Ponds School could be associated with the cafe but not necessarily incorporated into the structure. A significant car park will be required to be built either just outside the park or just within it for cars using the cafe. The cafe should close when the park closes.

1h. Carparks

Car parking in the You Yangs has become a significant problem as visitor numbers increase and existing carparks degrade. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Visitor Centre – urgently needs to be redefined consolidated with a non erosive surface. A large bus/coach parking area for short term parking for at least one large coach needs to be defined
  • Yellow Gums – needs to be repaired, surfaced consolidated and the two access points better defined and widened
  • Lower Picnic Ground – is subject to major erosion after heavy rain which can make certain section of the carpark unuseable. This entire area needs to be hard surfaced with defined parking bays
  • Big Rock – this carpark gives access to a major Aborignal site and is an important picnic ground. Because it is located at a dead end the Big Rock carpark can be problematic especially for larger tour vehicles (coaches). The turntable at the end of the road is not big enough to accommodate a large coach and needs to be big enough to allow a large coach to turn around. The small vehicle carparks should be sealed and parking bays defined.
  • Kurrajong – once again this carpark is subject to erosion after heavy rain and should be consolidated

..

APPENDIX 2: Serendip Sanctuary

map of Serendip Sanctuary near You Yangs

2a. Wildlife Tourism & Conservation

Serendip Sanctuary is a major component of the Wildlife Tourism in the region – it has been described as “the pendulum that keeps the You Yangs clock ticking”. The significance of the sanctuary to the region cannot be overemphasised especially its population of wild Eastern-grey kangaroos – these macropods – and the sanctuary as a whole – are a critical component of our tours and have been for over 26 years.

It is vital to our operation that Serendip retains its raw and wild feeling and that the kangaroos are allowed to keep roaming in the park (we do understand that at times there may need to be some controls put in place to ensure that the kangaroo population does not get too high) Any changes that upset the fine balance that the kangaroos of Serendip have with the park and its environs will almost certainly mean that they will leave and that will be the end of our use of the sanctuary and possibly the region as a whole – that is how important Serendip is!

Here are some preliminary thoughts on how the Sanctuary should be used in the future:

  • Many parts of the park have a “wild and remote” feel (as described by international tourists) and it is important that this feeling is retained, especially on the western side of the park
  • The current grasslands must be retained. This means that no further tree planting should occur in the park. Over the past decade large swathes of the sanctuary have been planted with trees wiping out grasslands that we used.
  • There has been talk of a walking/bike route through Serendip. To avoid disturbing wildlife we do not believe that a bike or walking path contiguous with the outside of the park should be constructed through the sanctuary UNLESS it follows a route that avoids the front entrance paddock and keeps east of the lake (ie. does not use the western section of the ring road). The exit point could be near the rear gate on Plains Rd.
  • Most importantly, Serendip is a Sanctuary and must NOT be considered as an adventure destination for bikers, joggers or runners or as a multi-use public park for events, music festivals etc. If this happens the park will lose its integrity. Serendip has always been, and should remain, a peaceful haven for wildlife watching and appreciation and must remain that way for it to be of any benefit to wildlife tourism. See the section about Branding on the first page of this document for more details on how this works.
  • The Ring Road should remain available only to LTO vehicles and PV staff
  • The front entrance paddock should continue to be available to LTO’s only with no modifications at all. This paddock is vital to our cruise ship operations.
  • The western side of the sanctuary is used primarily by our small group tours and is a place where our guests and guides can lose themselves in the beauty of the Australian bush.
  • Serendip has a long history of conserving endangered wildlife and plants – this part of its activities should be reawakened and built upon as many visitors to the sanctuary would be happy to meet, be involved with and look into the conservation efforts of the facility. Many of our guests would pay to see and learn about these activities.
  • Serendip urgently needs to consider upgrading its staffing to include a number of ‘roving guides’ who will help people appreciate the place by taking guided walks through the enclosures and helping both young and old understand how important biodiversity and conservation are. (see also Aboriginal employment)
  • The ‘walk through’ areas of Serendip are degrading rapidly which is a travesty in the making as they showcase some of our least seen and most important wildlife of the region. These areas urgently need repairs and upgrades.
  • Weed and pest control is a serious problem for Serendip and must be undertaken.
  • Funding to undertake this important work should be a priority
  • Water is the key to Serendip’s success – every effort should be made to ensure that sanctuary has an ongoing supply of both surface and underground water.
aerial photograph of Serendip Sanctuary 2019
Aerial photograph of Serendip Sanctuary 2019. Note encroachment by housing, and how formerly-extensive grasslands and water in Lake Serendip have almost disappeared.

2b. Access

The sanctuary is primarily accessible from Windemere Road but there is another very useful access point from the rear of the park off Plains Road. Here are some ideas:

  • The front gate at Serendip should be replaced with the same type of gate used at the main entrance to the You Yangs. As we regularly use the park after closing hours this would make access far easier and require less keys.
  • The rear entrance to the park is currently protected using a very badly damaged gate and grid. This should be upgraded to a reinforced heavy duty gate and the gate posts moved further apart to allow larger vehicle access to this entrance. This would benefit both wildlife tourism and assist with egress in the case of bushfire.
  • Both access points should be only available to confirmed keyholders including LTO’s who have been vetted to ensure they will care for the sanctuary when it is unstaffed.

2c. Roads & fences

The Ring Road is holding up reasonably well for our tour vehicles however we’d like to suggest a few modifications/upgrades:

  • The turn beside the works shed is very tight. Can this turn be made less difficult by removing some of the obstacles in this area?
  • The drain under the Ring Road on the northernmost section of the road is subject to erosion after rain and could be widened a little if possible
  • There are too many fences and enclosures that do nothing in the sanctuary, many of which should be removed as they are unsightly, however the fences around the front entrance paddock and the public picnic area should remain to prevent unwanted access to sensitive wildlife viewing zones

2d. Toilets

The main carpark toilet urgently requires an upgrade; tiles are falling off the walls, toilets regularly become blocked and there are not enough cubicles. We suggest that the existing block be extended and renovated or replaced. There should be at least 6 cubicles in the woman’s toilet and 3 in the mens room plus a large urinal. There should also be much better serviced handwashing facilities and at least 2 external drinking fountains.

2e. Picnic areas

Main Carpark – this picnic area needs renovations to tables and seating and possibly an extension to the current covered area.

Dedicated Group BBQ area for tours – this area is extremely important to us as a tour operator and has been left to disintegrate over the years. It requires a major overhaul with particular attention to:

  • The privacy fence – it should be repaired to keep the natural ‘boma’ feel
  • Tables and chairs need to be updated for up to 40 people
  • New roof to cover at least 25 people – possible ‘sail’ type?
  • This area should only available to pre-booked groups and therefore lockable
  • Access from the main carpark to this area should be available (with a locked gate to ensure others do not use it)

NEW Large Group Area – in the cruise ship season we regularly bring up to 120 people into the sanctuary for lunches and occasional dinners. At present we arrange for a marquee to be erected in the main carpark however if a dedicated area could be set aside, not too far from the toilet block, to do this it would make life much easier. We’d like to work with PV to bring this to fruition.

2f. Cafe/food outlet

There is little doubt that a cafe within Serendip would be profitable but it would need to be very carefully sited so that it did not interfere with the wonderful wild feel of the sanctuary. A good location for this could be to the north of the Eastern-barred Bandicoot enclosure beside the entrance walk looking over the duck ponds OR where the old office building was. It should not be too far from the toilets or, if that is unavoidable, a new toilet facility may be needed.

A cafe that could cater for 40 to 50 people would definitely be of interest to the tourism industry as long as it is low key, quiet, well designed and provides good quality meals.

2g. Carpark

The current main carpark at Serendip works reasonably well. The main matter that we are interested in is that we will continue to have access to the north eastern section of the carpark for our marquees for large groups.
___________________________________________________________________________
ENDS

A brief history of Echidna Walkabout’s involvement in the lead up to the Business Plan.

This history may throw some light on the when, where, why and how of the report.

8th March 2017 – First major email to Justin Vaughan (Manager Visitor Planning and Visitor Engagement and Conservation Division – Parks Victoria) about our proposal. As an historical record this is an important document, (note that preliminary discussions about this matter began in the Winter of 2016). A map of the proposed Conservation and Wildlife Tourism Zone was included with this email

15th March 2018 – A number of meetings occurred in the ensuing year including a joint meeting on this date between the Directors of Echidna Walkabout and Ministerial Advisors to the Minister for Tourism and the Minister for the Environment.

5th September 2018 – A 2 page Summary of Potential titled “Conservation & Wildlife Tourism Zone” was submitted to the Minister for Tourism, John Eren as required by the Minister for the Environment. Also included in the Summary was the original map along with numerous high quality links that gave weight to the proposal

4th October 2018Response from Minister Eren to the above

8th June 2019 – One of Echidna Walkabout’s most significant emails to Paul Wallace (District Manager Western Basalt Region – Parks Victoria). Sent just prior to GHD being awarded the contract to produce the Master Plan. Here we voice – once again – our concern that International Wildlife Tourism is not mentioned in any supporting information about the Master Plan.

Extreme heat means wildlife in distress, and bloody hard work.

Extreme heat has a taste.

Its an earthy blend of sweat and dirt. It is tasted with a thick tongue of dehydration, that stays swollen no matter how much water you drink. I can still taste it three hours after the heat has passed.

Its been over 40 for two days now in Melbourne. Extreme heat for most people means a day spent inside with the air-con on full. It means something different to wildlife tour operators, wildlife carers and everyone who works with wild animals.

It means wildlife in distress, and bloody hard work.

Yesterday, Koala Researchers Bart, Harry and Hannah started early before the heat. They were on a mission to find koalas in trees while they were still visible – once it gets over 37C koalas hide on the ground, or in thick vegetation and can be nearly impossible to find. And you can’t help animals you can’t find.

They found Pat and Imvula then Wildlife Guide Michael found Kiki, Kozo and Ngardang. I found an unnamed young male later.

On extreme hot days koalas can overheat and die. Most koalas are already dehydrated due to climate change drying out the eucalyptus leaves which provide them with their ‘drinking water’. A dehydrated koala can’t cool itself. So their poor little heads cook.

We have found a way to cool them down and hydrate them, but they need to be less than 5metres up a tree.

Michael’s observations showed Ngardang low in her tree, so I went straight to her. She is one of our breeding females, so she is very important. She is young and healthy, but she’s just weaned a joey and could be pregnant again or feeding a tiny new pouch joey.

I hoisted the 15kg backpack sprayer on my back and walked in to her.

She was still low, and in a perfect position. But I’ve tried spraying her before, with no luck. She is a very cautious wild koala, and it takes them a while to learn that this new experience is good.

I crept up, very quietly – if I make noise she might move up the tree out of sprayer reach. I set the spray nozzle on mist and starting spraying her so that it hit the branch in front of her, gently. She looked up, but then closed her eyes, enjoying the cool spray.

Over the next ten minutes I sprayed 8 litres of water on her. Her fur was damp, she had licked some off the tree trunk, and she looked much brighter than when I found her. Watch:

Of course, the whole time I was standing in the full sun with a heavy backpack, hand-operating a slide mechanism that takes a bit of strength. I was knackered, and she was just the first of five koalas that day.

Each koala is different. KiKi loved the spray, and made no effort to move away even when it was hitting her hard on her legs and body. At the end she looked like a teddy bear that had fallen into the bath.

Imvula was the worst/best. He was so flat that he barely raised his poor hot head from the ground when he heard me. He took 10 litres of water spray even though he’d never been sprayed before. At the end he climbed up, off the ground into the tree, wet and dripping with life in his beautiful brown eyes.

Every half hour or so I checked the weather site – I knew there was no respite, but you can’t help but hope. The temperature guage just stayed up. Over 40 for six and a half hours in the You Yangs.

Between spraying koalas I filled water in troughs and trays all around the You Yangs. At every water source I disturbed Swamp Wallabies, Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Grey Fantails, Magpies, White-winged Choughs, Brown-headed, Yellow-faced, New Holland and Scarlet Honeyeaters, Silvereyes, Red-browed Finches, Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, all drinking from my little trays. They were all open-mouthed and desperate. I hate to disturb them, so I only approach when the water is empty.

The birds don’t sing when its that hot. All you hear is the wind. Its like all life has ceased to be.

Finally, at 6.30pm the temperature started to drop and I went home to 8 hours of sleep, blissful, untroubled sleep.

Then it all started again today.

Our Koala Researchers and Wildlife Guides found Winberry, Clancy, Kiki, Kozo, the unnamed young male again, and Pat and Lluvia.

I went first to Winberry, as he hasn’t been sprayed this season. Wildlife Guide Brett and his tour guests were there too. I showed them what I was about to do, and told them why. Then I sprayed him, and got each of Brett’s guests, one by one, to spray him a little.

After all, tour guests are paying for this.

The tours pay the Koala Researchers and me. Without the tours we wouldn’t be in the You Yangs 310 days a year watching and learning about these koalas so that we can find them on hot days.

Spraying a hot, thirsty koala should not be a spectacle and we are careful not to present it that way. But it is a powerful message about climate change and what its doing to our wildlife.  Sometimes, experiencing a thing makes it real.

For years I was terrified of summer. I saw my beloved koalas dying from heat and climate change. I read scientific papers and learned that it would get worse. I worried and had trouble sleeping.

The only cure for worry is action.

It wasn’t easy – it took years of trying different ideas & equipment, many little failures and lots of input from our whole amazing team, and our Koala Clancy Foundation Members. But we’ve finally come up with something that works.

I’m home now, really tired. My tongue is swollen and I can still taste the heat.  I know Koala Researchers and Wildlife Guides are feeling the same.

But I will sleep tonight. And nine koalas feel a little bit better.

The Pre-Menstrual Drop Bear: 5 Amazing Facts about Koala Sex

The Pre-Menstrual Drop Bear: 5 Amazing Facts about Koala Sex

The angelic face and innocent eyes of a koala hide a mischievous sprite, with one of the most interesting sex lives in the animal kingdom, worthy of a national Wild Koala Day, May 3, in their honour.

Fact #1. Female koalas have 3 vaginas

I’m sorry, what? The little devils….”

The animal world has many shocking secrets, and not all bodies are made the same. Under all that fluff and chubby cuteness, there’s a lot of woman!

  • How: She still has a single opening to the exterior, but just inside the vagina branches into three.
  • Why: Its part of her marsupial heritage. The plumbing runs through the middle of the baby factory, preventing the three branches from fusing into one.*1.

femaleKOALAReproductiveAnatomytext(OMG Imagine inventing a sex toy for koala girls.)

Fact #2. Male koalas have a forked penis

Watching a male koala become aroused is like a scene from an alien horror movie. Not only does his penis have two heads, it is pink, very large and prominently-veined.

The greater shock is that most marsupials have forked penises. Possums, wombats, sugar gliders, bilbies. But most have slender, elegant appendages. Koalas are unusual is that they are well-endowed in both girth and length.

CUDDLES160715p01bjpeniswm

  • How: the two heads don’t stick out far and can be retracted.
  • Why: No-one really knows. Maybe it helps sperm enter two of the three branches of the vagina?

You want to see a close-up of that, don’t you?

CUDDLES160715p01bjpeniswmcrop

Fact #3. Koala sex is voice-activated

Its not a guy’s looks, wealth or power that turns on a lady koala, its his voice. The deepest bass and baritone notes are a koala lady’s aphrodisiac.*2

Barry White, Louis Armstrong, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave would have done well as koalas.

Male koalas broadcast their availability in breeding season – October to March. Their voice travels far, and clucky females make their travel plans to the deepest voice in the land. The best way to see and hear this is on Echidna Walkabout’s Sunset Koalas & Kangaroos tour.

Listen:

  • How: low sounds are usually produced by large bodies, so a deep voice is an indicator of a large, strong male that will father strong offspring. In fact, koalas produce a deeper sound than their body should be able to, due to special organs in their throat. *2
  • Why: Low notes travel further, so these males have a wider audience.

Fact #4. Koalas ovulate only after they have sex

Koalas don’t waste anything, not even eggs!  They are ‘induced ovulators’: an egg is released after sex and fertilised by stored sperm. *3

Induced ovulation is not uncommon in the animal world. Cats, rabbits and camels do it too.

Koala girls don’t have a period or monthly oestrus cycle.  They do it all in a rush, once a year, when sex is had and pregnancy is likely.

Imagine all that tension bottled up into one insane week per year.

The first Drop Bear (*4) was just a pre-menstrual female koala in a bad mood.

  • How: Hormones released in response to sex cause the ovary to release an egg, which is fertilised by stored sperm.
  • Why: It is suggested that it is good for animals with large home ranges who might have trouble finding each other at the right time. The female may also be able to choose not to ovulate, if the male didn’t treat her right. See next point.

Fact #5. The girls are in charge

The best way to explain this is through an analogy:

All year a lady koala will sit in her house as a happy single mother in her trackies, eating, watching TV and playing with her kid. But then October comes around, the weather improves, and the males start to sing to her. It awakens something. For another month she stays in her trackies watching TV, but she starts to think about doing her hair and going to the gym. By December she is fit and fine and ready for the town.

She packs her bags and goes on a little sex holiday. She can walk many kilometres. She goes straight to the house of the male she wants, sets herself up in the spare room and waits. She has no fear of being rejected – koalas are born gorgeous, and they know it.

The male eventually figures out she is there (he has a lot of spare rooms) and goes to her. He stands propped against the door (tree). Now he’s got her, he’s not letting her go.

Later that night he goes in the door (up the tree), singing. If she likes him, she won’t fight him – much. If she doesn’t like him she becomes vicious, slashing at his face with razor sharp claws.

I’ve watched several females fight off larger males. Lady koalas are not to be messed with.

Watch this rare footage of koalas mating in the wild:

When she’s finished with him, she goes home to her TV and her trackies, and soon to be baby.

Koalas are just so damn interesting! Can you ever look at them the same way again?

This is why Wild Koala Day is so important. The how and why of all this behaviour is best seen in wild koala populations, which are declining at shocking rates all over Australia. To keep them, we are going to have to act on protecting forest. Now.

Find out more about Wild Koala Day.

So on May 3, Wild Koala Day:

PLANT a tree

PROTECT a forest

PHONE a politician

Or support an industry that is fighting for their survival – come on a tour that features wild koalas

 

 

References:

*1. Johnson, S & Holt, W.  “The Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus): A Case Study in the Development of Reproductive Technology in a Marsupial” in Reproductive Sciences in Animal Conservation, (2014) Chapter 9 p. 175

*2. Charlton B (2011) quoted in Nature.com

*3. Ellis, W & Bercovitch, F. 2011 “Body size and sexual selection in the koala” in Behavioural Ecology & Sociobiology Vol 65 (2011) p. 1230

*4. Drop Bear: a fictitious predatory koala that drops onto unsuspecting tourists from above. see Wikipedia

5 Amazing Facts about Koala Joeys

1. Baby koalas are called Joeys. All marsupial babies are called joeys – kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, tasmanian devils, possums & bilbys. The meaning/origin is unknown – it’s possibly just a diminutive used at that time for any small animal. Joey as a baby marsupial was first recorded in use in 1839.

The use of the word joey may have started with the word being applied for a British fourpenny coin. Politician Joseph Hume promoted the use of the fourpenny, thus the coin developed the slang name joey after him.

mearnathan070914p02crop2wmlowres

2. The first time you see a koala joey it is already 6 months old. Koala joeys are born as tiny naked creatures that don’t look anything like a koala. They move straight into the pouch, and remain unseen until they emerge at around 6 months old.

Actual emergence takes time. The joey first pokes his head out of the pouch at 5.5 months, and fully emerges at 6 to 7 months. By 8 to 9 months the joey becomes too large to get into the pouch, and spends all his time on his mother’s belly or back.

3. Koalas invented pro-biotics. Koala joeys eat ‘pap’ – a special substance produced by their mother that looks like poo and acts like a probiotic. It contains gut flora that the joey needs to process eucalyptus leaves. The mother koala produces it from her caecum (a special chamber in her large intestine) and delivers it from her cloaca, so though it looks a bit like poo, its not.

Pap is absolutely essential to a koala’s health. Wildlife Carers with orphaned koala joeys will frequently ask the wildlife care community for a postal delivery of pap from a koala mother – any koala mother will do, the closer the better but any is better than none. Imagine receiving that package of squishy green slurry in the mail!

wurdi141016srp0wmlowres

4. Koala joeys are born out of their mother’s central vagina. Female koalas have three vaginas.

Why? Its complicated, and deserves a complete blog on the subject. Suffice to say that the two lateral (side) vaginae are for the passage of sperm to the uteri, and the median (central) vagina is for birth.

5. Koala joeys are born high in a tree. There is no danger of them falling to the ground – they are so tiny they get trapped in their mother’s fur. At birth a koala joey weighs only 1 gram – as much as a single sultana/raisin – and is only 2cm long.

babarrangjoey141016srp0wmlowres

It’s Koala Joey Season in the state of Victoria right now. All over the state wild koalas can be seen with joeys – hotspots are The You Yangs near Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road and Raymond Island, East Gippsland.

Echidna Walkabout runs the following tours to see koalas in the wild – with a high chance of seeing koala joeys each year from September to November:

Wildlife Journey 4 days

Great Ocean Road 3 days

Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD 1 day

For more information contact:

Janine Duffy

janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au

T: +61 (0)3 9646 8249

Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours & Koala Clancy Foundation

http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au http://koalaclancyfoundation.org.au

Once seen, never forgotten. Koala of the Month: Cruiz

Its easy to assume that wild koalas have small, reliable home ranges. After all, you don’t see them moving about much do you?CRUIZ260913mrWMlowrestext

If we’ve learnt one thing over 17 years of wild koala research, its that koalas move! A lot!

We first met Cruiz in November 2008 in the Turntable region of the You Yangs. He looked big, strong and healthy. We assumed he was mature – at least 4 or 5 years old. It was exciting to have a new male on the block.

MALEh131108p03mbcropWMlowrestext2

But then he disappeared. Sadly, we filed his photos and nose pattern diagram under the “Koalas once seen, never to be seen again” file.

You should never give up on a koala, though. Out of the blue in December 2011 he re-appeared in the turntable area. He’s back, we thought. “Don’t be hasty” he thought.

We didn’t see Cruiz once in 2012. Not once. Back into The File he went.

CRUIZ260913p05srcropWMlowrestext
Cruiz in 2013

So when he showed up three times in 2013 and three times in 2014, we had learnt our lesson. We didn’t get excited. Maybe he’s a nomad. Maybe he’s in protracted negotiations with dominant male Anzac, and other residents Vincent, Zack, Kenny and Rocky.

But 2015 was a good year for Cruiz. Already we have seen him 12 times. He’s been all over the place – turntable, branding yard 2 km to the east, Branch Rd. If we simply join the dots of all his locations this year, his home range would be around 117 hectares!

CRUIZ281015p04srWMlowrestext

Interestingly, too, he isn’t migrating steadily from one area to another – he is regularly traversing that entire area. One day he’ll be in Branding Yard, a week later he’ll be back in Turntable.

He’s not young either – we estimate he is at least 12 years old. That’s a really good age for a wild male these days.

Every single wild koala is different. Cruiz is a special fellow.

If you come on our Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD one day tour, or our 3 day Great Ocean Road tour, you might meet him!

Zack – wild koala of the month for October 2015

October #KoalaOfTheMonth is Zack!  Zack is very pugnacious and always a bit ahead of the game!!

wild koala Zack

Zack is a young fellow with a lot of guts. He is pushing into dominant male Anzac’s home range – which no-one else has dared to do for years.  We are all so impressed with his courage, but worried for him as well!

wild koala Zack

Zack was first seen in October 2013.  We see a lot of young males moving around in spring each year. Most appear briefly, then disappear again, but Zack stuck around.  We’ve been seeing him on an off now for two years. We hope he can find a little home of his own near us!

wild koala Zack

Zack has a distinct, and obvious, unique nose pattern. Can you see the bright white patches in his nostrils and how they are similar both sides, but not quite the same?
Once you know a koala by their nose you’ll rarely mistake their identity, even if other features change.

wild koala Zack

When we first met Zack he looked like a 3 or 4 year old – chubby small face, big eyes, dark grey fur.

wild koala Zack
Zack when we first met him, a 3 year old

Two years later, he is now a mature male and looks every bit of it – big, broad head, lighter dove grey fur, big shoulders.

wild koala Zack
Zack in 2015, a mature 5 year old

If you are planning a trip to Melbourne, Australia, book the Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD or 3 day Great Ocean Road tour for a chance to see Zack in person!

Watch out next Monday for November #koalaOfTheMonth Pat – mother of #KoalaClancy.

Bungaleenee: December 2014 #koalaOfTheMonth

This is #KoalaOfTheMonth: Bungaleenee. Whilst koalas are excellent at playing Hide and Seek, Bungaleenee is not playing that game here. He is sitting on the ground hugging the tree in an attempt to cool down. The tree trunk can keep his body temperature down by up to 7 degrees.

bungaleenee

Some people comment that Bungaleenee’s name sounds Italian (although not usually a comment made by Italians). In fact Bungaleenee is the name of an Aboriginal Man from the Gippsland area.

bungaleenee

Bungaleenee lives south of males #KoalaClancy and Gurren, and shares his home range with females Babarrang, Bermborok and Mear.

BUNGALEENEE

It’s a well known fact that girl koalas are cuter than boy koalas (sorry guys). However if ever there was a big male who was a little better looking than others it would have to be Koala of the Month Bungaleenee!

bungaleenee

Next time you’re visiting Melbourne, Australia, come our on our Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD tour and you might meet Bungaleenee!

A Miracle (Koala) Baby! The story of wild koala Misty

25th August 2015: While on Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD tour Wildlife Guide Scott’s Whats App message came through to Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours base:
“K1 (Koala sighting 1) is Misty. K4 is her joey. Both high in a Yellow Gum. Joey is laying across her front”

mistysJoeyWhatsApp

MistysJoeyWhatsApp2

It was followed by a torrent of whoops, woohoos and thumbs up as our whole Koala Research and Wildlife Guiding team celebrated.

Every year we see koala joeys, so why was this one so special? To explain we have to go back to January 2014, to a week of terrible heat. Four consecutive days over 41C (105.8F). By January 18th, the fourth day, koalas were suffering.

This photo was taken 18th January 2014 and shows the first time we met Misty. She was not a happy koala.

MISTY180114p02dcWMlowres
This poor young girl was sitting miserably in a waterhole. And she wasn’t the only one – six other koalas were on the ground over those four days, and another six were sitting in the lower third of their trees. This is an unusually high incidence of ground and low roosting.

Misty was found at 9.45am that day, sitting with her feet in the waterhole. She was checked five times over the next five hours and she barely moved. I came past at 2pm with a lovely group of people on a Koala Conservation Day for Locals. I was shocked by her look of hopelessness.

MISTY180114p01srWMlowres
On this occasion I did something I would not normally do: I asked my volunteers to wait in the car, and I approached Misty with a water spray while they watched. I was hoping that my approach would make her spark up and climb a tree. It didn’t, and that’s when I really knew she was in deep trouble.

A wild koala does not welcome a close approach by a human unless they are severely injured or so heat-stressed they are in danger of dying. Basically, their knowledge of impending death is so great that their fear of humans is cancelled out.  Misty was at Stage 5 of the Koala Heat Stress Scale – read about that here: When does a hot koala need help?

So when you see that beautiful photo of Sam the koala being given water by the firefighter – don’t see an appreciative wild animal being helped by a person. See a dying animal that has no choice.

MISTY200114p01dcWMlowres
I sprayed the full bottle of water on her, standing back as far as I could and all she did was put her head up. I called Donna from Lara Wildlife Shelter and asked if she could take her into care.

My beautiful volunteers were absolutely quiet and didn’t leave the car all this time. I bet the iPhones and cameras were working overtime!

Misty stayed in care with Donna for 10 days. In that time she was weighed, thoroughly vet checked, and assessed to have nothing wrong with her. I was surprised – could a healthy young koala really be brought so low by a heatwave? Other, older koalas were still alive through this heatwave, without our help. But, interestingly, one joey was looking a bit flat too – maybe it is hard on the young?

She was released to the place she was found, healthy and well, late on 28th January 2014.

MISTY080115p07phcropWMlowres

Throughout 2014 and 2015 we have seen Misty on and off. At first, she stayed near the little waterhole. Later she was seen moving close to Nova and Elizabeth’s home area. We were thrilled that she was staying around and looking so well!

Then suddenly, in August this year, we got that beautiful message from Wildlife Guide Scott:

“K1 is Misty. K4 is her joey. Both high in a Yellow Gum. Joey is laying across her front”

MISTYjoey250815p18enhlowres

Not only has Misty survived her ordeal, she has thrived. She has done the greatest thing of all for koala conservation – she has produced the next generation. And we’ve been part of that.

We are very proud ‘grandparents’.

 

Update 2017: Misty’s first joey Lluvia, a male, thrived, and became independent at around one year old.  In July 2016 Misty’s second joey, Cuddles, a female, emerged from her pouch.  At January 2017 Cuddles is still with Misty but becoming increasingly independent.

Emma – Wild Koala of the month for August 2015!

August Koala of the month is Emma!

This dear little lady has been a friend since 29th March 2006 – can you believe that? 9.5 years!  Emma has been delighting international travellers for nearly 10 years.  Aren’t we lucky to know her?

EMMA290712mrcropwmlowres

We are not sure exactly how old she is, but in 2006 we thought she looked around 3-4 years old.  That would make her at least 12 or 13 years old now.

EMMA070715p04srlowresLogo

Emma has always been a small female, and has never been seen with a joey.  Though that sounds surprising, its not.  A high proportion of our wild females never raise a joey.  Of eleven females currently living in our main research area, only three have ever been seen with joeys.  A few of those females are new, so may produce young, but this has been the pattern over all of our 17 years of koala research, both in the You Yangs and Brisbane Ranges.

EMMA031013p01dctextlowres

We are not sure of the reason, but we can’t just assume its chlamydia.  Though the You Yangs & Brisbane Ranges populations are Chlamydia-positive, the disease rarely manifests in any way we can see.  Chlamydia could be the cause, but it could be something else.  Or it could be normal for koalas to have a low birth rate in these habitats.

EMMA170714p02phcropwmlowres

It doesn’t matter to us whether she is a mother or not – she is a valuable member of the koala community and we love her!

About wild koala Bermborok – July 2015 Koala of the Month

July Koala of the Month is Bermborok!!  Bermborok is the Watharurong* word for sister, and is probably the origin of the name ‘Beremboke’ – the town in the Brisbane Ranges where Roger’s mum and dad lived, and our good friend Marilyn Blankley runs a wildlife shelter.

Koala Researcher Melinda King, a member of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Community, suggested the name for her.  We like to promote the use of the original languages of Australia, and this is a great way of remembering them.

Bermborok is a beautiful little lady living just near Koala Clancy. This month we’ll tell you a bit about her.

our lovely little brunette, Bermborok
our lovely little brunette, Bermborok

We first met July koala of the month Bermborok in December 2012. At first it was hard to get a decent photograph – this one was the best we could manage. Why? Like a lot of unhabituated wild koalas, she was nervous. She would hide in the leaves at the very top of the tree.

Bermborok in the early days, nervously peeking at us
Bermborok in the early days, nervously peeking at us

If koalas have had no experience of humans they see us as a danger. So we are patient – we stay quiet, move little and stay well back from the tree.  See our Koala Rules to learn how to do it.   It works!  In the next photo we’ll show you how relaxed Bermborok has become.

Bermborok, now curious
Bermborok, now curious

Now, 2.5 years after first meeting Bermborok, she is relaxed enough to look at us with curiosity. She no longer bolts for the top of the tree each time she hears us coming, she no longer feels she has to hide her lovely face in the leaves.

This is our reward for being gentle and patient with her.  We feel better knowing she isn’t terrified.  It also makes her easier to find!  Nervous koalas can avoid people by hiding themselves in thick foliage when they hear you coming.  So there’s another reason to be quiet, and stay well back from wild koalas – next time you visit you might be rewarded!

July koala of the month Bermborok has a chubby little face – can you see it? This suggests to us that she is quite young, perhaps just 4 or 5 years old.

BERMBOROK110714p10srlowreslogo

Koalas age like we do – they start off with round “puppy fat” faces and over time become more angular.  Its not a totally reliable method of aging a wild koala, but its the best we can do non-intrusively!

Learn more about our Wild Koala Research Project: http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au/wildliferesearch

*Wathaurong is the language of the Aboriginal People of Geelong, Little River and the You Yangs.