A community-based survey of the koala Phascolarctos cinereus, in the Eden region of south-eastern New South Wales
Lunney, D, Esson, C, Moon, C, Ellis, M & Matthews, A 1997, Wildlife Research, vol. 24, pp. 111-128.
A community-based survey was carried out in cooperation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Forestry Commission between 1991 and 1992 in the Eden region of south-eastern New South Wales (NSW). The survey revealed that koalas were very rare in the region and had been for at least four decades. Sighting records indicated that koalas were more commonly found in State Forests (54%) than in private tenures (38%) or National Parks and Nature Reserves (8%).
Questionnaires and maps were distributed to local residents by post in order to gather information on the occurrence and distribution of local koalas. There was a 10.3% return rate of the questionnaires, and respondents were widely distributed and representative across the region. Of all respondents, 92% said they had never seen a koala in the region, indicating the species’ low occurrence. Information on the number of years of residency of the participants and the frequency of koala sightings provided a snapshot of the population trend of local koalas through time, with results suggesting that the number of koalas had been consistently low for the past 90 years. State Forests accounted for 54% of all koala sighting records, while sighting records in National Parks and Nature Reserves constituted only 8%. This could be problematic for the conservation of koalas in the region as State Forests are subjected to different degrees of logging associated with local timber industry.
This study highlights the importance of community involvement for gathering information on animals that occur in low abundance, as the survey generated triple the amount of data previously available on koala populations in Eden. Furthermore, it identified areas and vegetation types where koalas were most common which is important information for habitat management. Therefore, despite having some inherent problems such as carelessness from participants when responding and lack of information from areas that were not frequented by people, community-based surveys provide an economical and regionally-scaled method for obtaining data about local koala populations to inform planning and management.
Summarised by Cherie Chan
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