First koala in 13 years seen at Yourka Reserve in Far North Queensland

November 27, 2020
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A koala has been spotted in a Far North Queensland bush reserve for the first time in more than a decade.

The Yourka Reserve, west of Tully, spans 43,500 hectares and is managed by conservation foundation Bush Heritage Australia.

The site is at the northernmost edge of the typical distribution of koalas.

Last month, however, a distinctive growl led wildlife volunteers to a tree where a healthy male was spotted clinging to the trunk.

Reserve Manager Paul Hales said it was the first koala he had seen there since the foundation took over the property in 2007.

“They’re a hard thing to find, even when you know they’re there,” he said.

Mr Hales said two volunteers from Conservation Wildlife Management heard the koala’s growl and mentioned it to him the next day.

“So I went out the next night and spent a few hours both with a thermal and then with a white spot light, to no avail,” he said.

“It wasn’t until I was actually packed up and started to leave that I ran a spotlight around again and there he was, sitting at the base of a tree peering around, looking at me.

Mr Hales said there had been other sightings in the area, but that the discovery gives him hope that there could be more on the property.

National icon shuns national park

The Yourka Reserve was originally pastoral land, but because it was never cleared on a large scale Bush Heritage Australia was able to restore it to bushland.

Researcher Alistair Melzer said that properties like the Yourka Reserve and rangeland grazing properties made up most of Queensland’s koala habitat.

“Most of that extensive distribution that I’ve described occurs on farming land, not inside national parks,” he said.

“So it is areas of bushland that are being managed by rangeland graziers, for example, that are effectively the majority of the habitat available for most of the koalas’ distribution.”

He said koalas had been seen as far north as Cooktown and as far west as Hughenden.

But he said densities in the north and west were far lower than in the south-east corner.

“South-east Queensland has the highest carrying capacity, but as you move into the regions, the density of koalas per hectare goes down,” Dr Melzer said.

He said climatic variability was also affecting populations.

“During the big droughts those populations would die off,” Dr Melzer said.

“Then the extent of the population would effectively retreat back to these long-term drought refuge areas that are scattered around the country.”

He said the discovery spoke to the value of conservation land.

“We’re facing periods of much greater climate extremes,” Dr Melzer said.

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