Charles Sturt University PhD candidate Ms Teresa Cochrane is working to turn this statistic around through her research project, ‘Koala Dreaming’.
For the proud Dunghutti Gumbaynggirr woman with strong cultural connections to Birpai/Birripi Country and Bunjalung Country on the east coast of Australia, Teresa’s passion for koala conservation runs deep.
“I have always been drawn to the koala and completed work placement and most of my koala research in partnership with Koala Conservation Australia and Scott Castle,” Teresa said.
“During my time researching I learnt that the koala is the totem of my great-great-grandfather, King Bennelong of the Gumbaynggirr people in Uranga.”
This connection has formed the basis of Teresa’s PhD topic, being completed with and under the supervision of Dr Peta Jeffries, Dr Scott McManus and Professor Lee Baumgartner as part of her Doctor of Philosophy in Arts Education in the Charles Sturt School of Indigenous Australian Studies.
“It will focus on the conservation of koalas by using Indigenous knowledge, methodologies and ways of being and doing,” she said.
“It is really important to have a central focus of culture and Country to ensure that the project continues the work of ancestors, traditional owners and Elders past and present.
“The work builds on my own cultural journey and the cultural journey of my supervisors as we build on the research from my honours dissertations and advanced topics research that I completed in my undergraduate studies.”
The Australian Koala Foundation estimates there are likely less than 60,000 koalas remaining in Australia today, potentially even as few as 33,000.
“They have only recently been granted the status of being endangered, but previous research and population decline statistics highlight the reducing numbers over time,” Teresa said.
“The addition of increasing natural disasters like bushfires and floods, and the impacts that people are having on key habitats and food sources are pushing koala populations even further into decline.
“The need to protect the species is becoming more important, but time is running out.”
Teresa and her supervisors are combining their knowledge to shed an important light on how Indigenous methodologies and science can be used for education rather than the common Western approach that dominates Australian education systems.
“We will be doing this by using my personal totem the koala as the key species and gathering a variety of information to help in its conservation and ongoing management,” she said.
September is nationally recognised as Save the Koala Month, which Teresa said is more important now than ever.
“Koalas are an important species to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia, as well as internationally,” she said.
“They are vital to the growth and development of eucalyptus due to their herbivorous relationship and other environmental contributions, but they also play a vital role in education, tourism and culture in Australia.
“I think we are so fortunate to have such a worldwide love for the koala that a lot of resources are going into its protection and conservation.”
The work being done to conserve the species to date is a great starting point, according to Teresa, but not the end of the road.
“We need to keep up the work to ensure that we are not only stopping the decline in species numbers, but we are also increasing the population numbers,” she said.
This can be done through big and small efforts.
“I think that we need to start addressing the concerns to protect the koala species on a more individual level, because this is where a significant amount of the issues are occurring, and it allows for simple fixes,” Teresa said.
“For example, people who live in areas where koalas are spotted should be planting appropriate koala food trees or koala habitat corridors using species of eucalyptus that koalas can eat, as well as having large logs or branches leaned up against fences to ensure that if a koala gets stuck in your backyard (hopefully without a dog in it) they have a chance to escape.
“We can all do little things like driving slower around koala populated areas to reduce vehicle mortalities, and when you see a koala stressed or in danger, please leave the animal alone and call a qualified wildlife service to deal with it.”
You can read more about Teresa’s research here.