by wildlife carer Rachel Aspinall
Winter, love it or hate it, is well and truly settling in. Some people like a break from the heat, others rug up warmly and stay indoors as much as possible. Outdoors, however, wildlife activity continues to go on.
At this time of year the days grow shorter – dawn is later and dusk is earlier, so now people who are heading out to work in the morning experience more darkness, and the same on the drive home. This of course means that it’s harder to spot something ahead on the road, and so this season is when the most animal collisions occur.
Many native marsupials are also crepuscular (more active at twilight) – wallabies, gliders, possums, quolls, bandicoots and some species of kangaroo are primarily active in the hours around dawn and dusk, and koalas are also much more likely to be spotted moving around at this time, since they rarely venture down from their trees during daylight hours. It’s also breeding season for echidnas now, and so you may start seeing them out and about more often.
Not too long ago I was called out to perform a health assessment on a koala near Montville. It had been the subject of a very near miss just after dawn from a van who fortunately managed to avoid it at the last second.
It was just past a corner with very limited visibility, on a 70km/h zone of road, and so I could easily understand how in the faint light a driver might not spot a dark grey koala on the road until they were nearly upon it. I was also told a dog had been hit and killed at that point just the week earlier.
I arrived on the scene half an hour after the near-miss event, but while the koala had been spotted taking to a tree by the road just afterwards, once I arrived it was nowhere to be seen.
Later in the day, with permission from the owner of the adjoining property, I was able to access their land to attempt to locate and assess the health of the koala. The heavily wooded area made searching for a koala a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.
This is where we had the help of ‘Bear,’ a koala tracker dog and his handler, part of the fantastic Dogs for Conservation team out of the University of the Sunshine Coast.
We’re very fortunate to have them available as a resource to help track koalas in potential need – this conservation team is highly skilled and was internationally awarded for their work tracking down injured koalas after the exceptionally severe 2019-2020 bushfire season.
Bear’s keen nose quickly sniffed out the tree where the koala had spent the day. The tree canopy was very dense which meant we still couldn’t actually see the koala, however, it having made it high up in a tree deep in the woodland was a pretty good indicator that it was probably going to be okay.
We can only hope that it remains safe in the future as it moves between trees to feed, potentially crossing roads again to do so.
Please remember to be extra vigilant for our wildlife from late afternoon to early morning. There are lots of joeys in pouches at this time of year, too, so if an accident does occur we can still save a life.
Even if you haven’t hit the animal, but you see an animal that has been hit, a joey can actually survive in its mother’s pouch for several days even after she’s died – it insulates heat well and we have performed rescues well after the original incident.
So even if she looks like she’s been there for a few days, you can still check her pouch and it’s a really amazing experience for a person to be able to save a joey’s life.