2011 + 2019 July: Koala Numbers Drop Framlingham State Forest. Sterilsation, Fire, Euthanised

Koalas Phascolarctos cinereus in Framlingham Forest, south-west Victoria: Introduction, translocation and the effects of a bushfire

Robert Wallis Federation University Australia
Koalas were introduced into Framlingham Forest, south-west Victoria, in 1971 and the population grew rapidly. By the 1990s the forest was suffering severe defoliation and many trees preferred by Koalas had been over-browsed. In 1998/99 around 1100 Koalas were captured, the males sterilised and animals translocated to other suitable habitats in western Victoria. Some habitat restoration was subsequently undertaken. In 2007 a deliberately lit fire destroyed most eucalypt foliage and many Koalas were killed or burned and removed by wildlife carers and DSE staff. A survey in 2011 found only two Koalas in the area. A Koala management plan for Framlingham Forest has been prepared….
During 1998/1999 DSE began a Koala sterilisation and translocation program. Goldstraw
(pers. comm.) estimates some 1100 Koalas were removed to sites that included The Grampians
National Park, Mt Cole, Central Highlands and near Casterton. A veterinary surgeon super-
vised the vasectomies of male animals so that the only fertile males released would theoreti-
cally ultimately have been male pouch and ‘on- back’ young. Koalas were also removed from
sites adjoining Framlingham Forest, along the Hopkins River. DSE was unable to provide
details of the age, sex and destination of the translocated animals. The overpopulation had
destroyed almost all mature Manna Gums and damaged Swamp Gums E. ovata and River Red
Gums E. camaldulensis. Koalas were reported  eating non-preferred species such as Messmate
Stringbark E. obliqua and exotics, which suggests food was limited. A revegetation scheme
was undertaken by volunteers (Fig. 1). Goldstraw (pers. comm.) reports that on one occa-
sion he stood in the centre of the picnic ground and counted 11 Koalas in trees surrounding the
car park.
Natasha McLean, a postgraduate student at The University of Melbourne, studied the Koalas that were captured and translocated. In 2003 she was awarded a PhD in which, inter alia, she
examined data for the parameters that contribute to population growth, such as age structure,
sex ratio, and age-specific schedules of mortality and fecundity in a series of overpopulated
Koala sites in Victoria (McLean 2003; McLean and Handasyde 2006). The only notable difference between Koalas from Framlingham Forest and those from their original site (French Island) was that at Framlingham Forest 85% of births occurred between December and March, compared with 53% at French Island, indicating a highly seasonal breeding pattern at Framlingham.
On 10 January 2007, a fire that is believed to  have been deliberately lit (Thomson and Quirk
2012) raged through the Forest (Warrnambool Wildlife Rescue 2007). Approximately 95% of
the remaining Manna Gums were destroyed by this high-intensity  re (Watson pers. comm.)
(Figs. 2, 3). DSE records show 147 injured Koalas were rescued by volunteers, although many
animals were not reported; a DSE debriefing  with veterinarians suggests up to 450 surviving
Koalas were removed over six weeks post fire. There were reports of many animals killed by
the fire, although there are no details available on the actual number (Warrnambool Wildlife
Rescue 2007) (Fig. 4).
In 2011 two brief surveys of the road and tracks of Framlingham Forest were undertaken
by Deakin University students (9 half hour surveys) and the Warrnambool Field Naturalists
Club (2 hours) respectively. Both surveys found two Koalas in the Forest.
Koalas affected by fire
Some 147 Koalas were recorded as rescued after the January 2007 fire. As the responsible agency, DSE coordinated the rescue but members of the Warrnambool Wildlife Rescue group, carers, volunteer wildlife veterinarians and other volunteers undertook much of the rescue op-
eration. Seventy-eight of the collected animals were female; of the animals whose ages were
estimated, the 3–5 year old cohort was the most common (23 animals). There were five classed
by DSE as ‘babies’ (presumably pouch young), five animals estimated to be between five
months and 10 months old, six classed as over six years old and another four listed as ‘adult’.
Animals were collected three days after the fire and for the next 21 days. Most animals were
collected 17 days a er the  re, although daily collection efforts might have varied.
The fates of 87 animals were recorded; these  did not include pouch young that were with
their mothers. Wildlife carers took 38 (the final  fate of which is unknown), 33 were released by
DSE staff to the nearby Crawford River Regional Park, two went to Healesville Sanctuary, and
14 were either euthanised or died after rescue…”

Koala relocation, sterilisation program sees Framlingham population drop

July 19 2019


The animal numbers have dwindled after 200 koalas were removed from the township and translocated to other forests in October last year.

Carried out by the state environment department, the koala management program sought to address high koala numbers, declining tree health and loss of food trees, such as Manna Gum and River Red Gum.

It included koala health checks and fertility control of female koalas to reduce breeding rates.

A visit to the site this month revealed a significant reduction in koala numbers.

“DELWP visited the Framlingham township in November 2018 and again in July 2019 to monitor koala density and tree health,” DELWP’s acting regional manager of environmental compliance Mark Breguet said.

“The population of koalas is significantly reduced as a result of the active management by DELWP.

“From a recent survey, it is estimated that there is at least an 80 per cent reduction in koala numbers in the area.”

He said trees affected by overfeeding were looking better.

“The trees affected by over-browsing in 2018 are markedly recovering as a result of the koala management program,” Mr Breguet said.

“Trees throughout the township are generally exhibiting increased foliage growth, however some large old trees in the township and along the Hopkins river were unfortunately not able to recover.

“Residents spoken to are generally happy with the results of the management program, with many of the trees recovering and a much more sustainable koala density continuing to live in the township.

“Some preferred food trees continue to exhibit reduced canopy cover or signs of defoliation, and it will be important to continue to monitor the health of the koala population and their habitat.”

The department said the program was necessary due to a significant increase in koala numbers at Framlingham over the last decade.

It’s believed to be the result of koalas that were displaced and searching for new habitat following the Framlingham Forest fire in 2005-2006.

The majority were translocated to Claude Austin and Fergusson’s State Forest south of Rocklands Reservoir, west of the Grampians.

From a recent survey, it is estimated that there is at least an 80 per cent reduction in koala numbers in the area.

Mark Breguet, DELWP

Roy Baker, site manager at the Framlingham Aboriginal Trust, said the koalas in the Trust’s forests were happy and healthy.

“We’re on the other side of the township so we haven’t had any koalas removed and it doesn’t appear that we have an overpopulation,” he said.

“They seem to be happy and the trees are surviving.”

The koala population at Tower Hill has dwindled to a low of 60 after Parks Victoria carried out a cull 30 years ago.

“A mass relocation of more than 800 koalas from Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve occurred nearly 30 years ago to manage what was an unsustainable population,” Parks Victoria ranger team leader Ben Hammond said.

“Many koalas were in poor health and they were at risk of killing their food source from over-browsing.

“For the past 20 years there’s been a fertility control program to support a sustainable and healthy population of koalas and to maintain the Manna Gum habitat they need.

“Our latest count indicates there are between 60 and 80 koalas in the reserve, a population that is appropriate for the habitat available to them.”