Living in Tinonee, it’s easy to be blasé about koalas and take them for granted.
We see them often. Our sleep is frequently interrupted by the bellows of a male koala trying to entice a mate.
It’s easy to forget that we residents are extremely privileged to be living alongside what looks like a plentiful population. I have seen ‘out-of-villagers’ stopping and parking their cars in Tinonee, quickly, when they spy a koala on the move, so they can take a picture. I have seen tourists following a koala down the road as it moves from one favoured feeding tree to another.
Living in the Tinonee area, it’s easy to forget that koalas are, in fact, a threatened species and their numbers are seriously declining, even here. They need our help to survive. Especially, sadly, literally in our own back yards.
I have two trees in my yard that a big buck likes to frequent. I haven’t seen him for quite a while. Given this is mating season and koalas are on the move, this worries me. I worry that he is no longer alive.
Since May this year, Taree-based rescue organisation Koalas in Care has taken in nine koalas from Tinonee that have been attacked by dogs. Five of these animals have died. Some of the dogs making the attacks are repeat offenders.
Christeen McCleod, Koalas in Care facility manager, and MidCoast Council, want to work with residents to prevent further attacks from happening.
Christeen is on a mission to educate us about the protection of koalas and responsible dog ownership.
The majority of the attacks have been by dogs that have been housed in yards.Christeen McLeod
Many people assume the problem is with wild dogs, or dogs on rural properties that are allowed by their owners to roam. It is not.
“There’s been a problem in the rural residential areas for a few years, but the majority of what’s been happening since mid May has been in the township of Tinonee,” Christeen said.
“The majority of the attacks have been by dogs that have been housed in yards. What we’ve got is koalas visiting trees in yards or traversing through those yards to get to habitat trees. Koalas are territorial, and they know where their feed trees are, they’re going to get there one way or another.”
“The sad thing about it is some of these animals have been young animals coming into maturity, they’ve left mum, they’re not so experienced and the majority of these animals have all been healthy animals prior to being attacked by the dog,” Christeen said.
Harry and Jeremy
While at Koalas in Care interviewing Christeen, we meet two koalas who were mauled by dogs in Tinonee.
Christeen estimates young Harry to be around two and a half years old.
“This little fellow got attacked by dogs in a residential yard in Tinonee he kicked them off. They broke two bones in his arm and he had a massive big chunk bitten out of him,” Christeen said.
We’ve been dealing with this since May because the arm is infected, and now because of the infection it’s slowed down the healing of the bones. Now we’ve got one bone that’s healed and one that hasn’t.”
If Harry’s arm does not heal, he will have to be euthanised.
Jeremy is a much bigger male, and a bit of a Facebook celebrity. Christeen has been sharing photos of his wounds in hopes of shocking people into action.
He was admitted on July 24 after being attacked by a dog, a repeat offender, Christeen describes as being as “big as a horse”. The dog had his jaws wrapped around Jeremy’s entire head, leaving him with horrific wounds.
We are looking through a whole at the top of his shaved skull – and we can see right through to his skull. Christeen says it’s “looking very good”.
Jeremy also has a puncture on the left side of his head that needs draining of pus frequently, and another below his right ear which has healed.
He has a long, long way to go before he is out of danger.
Easy steps to stop dog attacks on koalas
“We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to change dog owners’ attitudes that we can put our dogs in the backyard and not be responsible for them, because it’s just not working in Tinonee,” Christeen said.
There is one easy step dog owners can take that will make a huge difference. Lock your dogs up at night, either in an enclosure, a shed, or inside the house, at the very least during the mating season months from August until March.
“Ideally dogs should be inside of a night time, or locked up where a koala can’t enter the enclosure. So you need a roof, and you need walls and you need to be able to contain them,” Christeen said.
“That’s the aim of the game - to make people aware, get people phoning, but we want to prevent it in the first place, that’s the thing.”Christeen McLeod
“It’s most important because koalas, from dusk to dawn, do most of their travelling for feed, for mating, that sort of thing. But that’s not to say they don’t move around during the course of the day.”
“Colorbond-type fences can be a real issue because if a koala gets into a yard that’s surrounded by a colourbond-type fence it can’t get out in a hurry, and consequently it’s trapped in there and it’s got no escape route.
“In areas like Tinonee if you have a colorbond fence you should be putting climbing poles up so that the koala actually has a refuge to be able to get out of the reach of dogs. These are ways to minimise attacks on koalas.”
Hefty fines if dogs attack koalas
All residents of Tinonee recently received a brochure in their mailbox on protecting koalas and responsible dog ownership. The brochure was produced by MidCoast Council and funded by the NSW Saving Our Species program.
Brochures will soon also be delivered to other koala hot spots – Hillville, Bootawa and Mondrook.
Along with tips to help reduce the risk to koalas from domestic dog attack, the brochure also explains the legalities of having a dog that attacks native wildlife, on both public and private land, as follows:
“The owner or person in charge of a dog that rushes at, attacks, bites, harasses, or chases a koala (whether or not any injury is caused) is guilty of an offence under the Companion Animals Act 1998 for which the maximum penalty is $11,000 (or $44,000 for a dangerous, menacing or restricted dog) and the dog can be seized. A dog killing, injuring or harming a koala may also be an offence under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.”
For injured koalas call Koalas in Care any time on 6552 2183 or 0439 406 770. Dog attacks should also be reported to council on 6591 7222.