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Health & welfare management

Post-fire survival and reproduction of rehabilitated and unburnt koalas

Lunney, D, Gresser, SM, Mahon, PS & Matthews, A 2004, Biological Conservation, vol. 120, pp. 567-575.

Comparisons of koalas rehabilitated after sustaining burn injuries following a fire event against uninjured koalas found no significant difference in post-release survival and reproductive success between the two groups, indicating human intervention and rehabilitation efforts can be beneficial to conservation efforts following fire.

  Sixteen koalas with treatable injuries including smoke-inhalation and burns as a result of the 1994 Port Stephens, New South Wales fire underwent rehabilitative care over an average of 168 days with the intention to be released and monitored. A population of 23 uninjured koalas from the same region served as a comparison group to assess the impact of rehabilitation upon post-release survival and reproductive success.  Estimates for post-release survival in the rehabilitated group were calculated to be 58%, compared to 67% for the uninjured group. Negligible differences in reproductive activity and success between the two groups indicated that koalas that underwent rehabilitation engaged in breeding activity at a rate similar to that of koalas in the uninjured group.

  Fire events significantly contribute to mortality rates of Australian animals, particularly the koala. This report is the first to investigate the post-release activity and survival of koalas following rehabilitation after a catastrophic natural event, with previous reports being limited to anecdotal evidence or based on observations that ceased at the point of release. The authors note the importance of community contribution and engagement to successful koala rehabilitation and release, especially in the face of increasing rates of urbanisation. It is proposed that future research be directed to further understanding the contribution of post-release individuals to population recovery.

 

Summarised by Lauren Mousley

 

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