While Lindt chocolatiers has launched a new chocolate koala for Save the Koala Month in September to indulge our sweet tooth, it is the tastes of these real-life furry creatures that is of concern to a Charles Sturt First Nations honours student.
Ms Teresa Cochrane is a proud Dunghutti woman now living in Birpai country in Port Macquarie.
The Charles Sturt University student initially enrolled in a Bachelor of Social Work before transferring to her current degree of Bachelor of Environmental Science and Management (Honours).
She is engrained in Charles Sturt’s culture, also working as a Student Library Assistant, a Student Ambassador and a First Nation Student Connect Tutor.
Ms Cochrane is proud of her First Nations culture and recently realised she could merge her heritage with her research project.
She has long been passionate about koala conservation and recently discovered that the koala was the totem of her great grandfather King Bennelong’s people, who is an elder of the Gumbaynggirr mob.
Her research, titled ‘Establishment of Eucalyptus plantation for koala food supply: tree planting methods and seedling nutritional analysis’, involves analysing soil treatments applied to one of the Koala Hospital Port Macquarie’s long-term koala food tree plantation called Moripo.
This plantation was established in 2019 with help from Ms Cochrane, who planted the first tree on site during her work placement period. For six months, she was assistant manager and helped with laying irrigation, setting up the grid guide and organising volunteers for planting days.
“I have always had a connection to koalas throughout my studies at Charles Sturt University and my First Nation culture,” she said.
Ms Cochrane’s honours project will measure the height, diameter and biomass of 144 Eucalyptus seedlings. The leaf chemistry of the Moripo foliage will be analysed and compared with rejected foliage from captive koalas at the Koala Hospital Port Macquarie facilities.
The data will then be used to discover the parameters that influence koala diet selection of Eucalyptus, if there is a difference in leaf chemistry between different soil treatments and the chemistry of young and old foliage.
The aim is to gain a better understanding of koala diet selection and determine if soil treatments used in Eucalyptus species have an impact on foliage chemistry.
“The research is going to help to provide the best care and husbandry to koalas that are in captivity,” Ms Cochrane said.
“This research will help koalas and their conservation measures by focusing on diet and habitat.”
Ms Cochrane is in her fourth and final year of her honours degree.
She is hoping to use it as a stepping stone to continue her research to obtain her PhD on the same topic of koala diet and selection.
“I have such a passion for this topic and I think this will become my specialty in my career as a researcher and scientist,” she said.
Ms Cochrane started volunteering at the koala hospital in 2018 because she wanted to contribute to the community while gaining practical experience during her studies.
She said recognising Save the Koala Month during September was crucial to the survival and conservation of these animals.
“They are one of Australia’s most loved species and unfortunately, species numbers have been declining at rapid rates to the point of being functionally extinct by 2050 in certain areas, such as Port Macquarie-Hastings,” she said.
“Celebrating and raising awareness about the koala can help people become empowered to plant koala food trees and corridors to help with their conservation.
“While it’s important to highlight and create awareness for a month, Save the Koala Month should be something that happens all the time.”