Koalas Are Dying Of Thirst, So This Farmer Developed An Ingenious Solution To Help Them

Credit: Kate Wilson

Due to natural occurrences, such as drought and wildfires, brought on by climate change, food sources for koalas are rapidly depleting, which is a big cause for concern for their survival. Koalas normally get the water that their bodies require from the eucalyptus leaves that they commonly eat, but due to the current conditions, they have resorted to drinking water, which is a very bad sign, according to recent reports from The Dodo. A farmer called Robert Frend, from New South Wales, Australia, recently took note of how thirsty the koalas had gotten, which proceeded to him helping the researchers at the University of Sydney to bring the animals water. From this, Frend invented a water station that is attached to trees, which he named Blinky Drinkers, and allows koalas to drink as much water as they need. 10 of these water stations were set up at different ground and tree levels, along with surveillance equipment, back in April 2016 in an area that contained sizeable populations of koalas.

After examining the recorded footage of the drinking koalas, the researchers were shocked at the findings. They found that the koalas were drinking a lot more water than expected, and even got up during the day, when they are normally sleeping, in order to drink from the stations. All of the stations were visited during their test period, and they recorded a total of 193 visits during the fall and winter seasons when the heat is not too harsh. The results came as a surprise to researchers as they were shocked to see that the animals change their behavior based on climate change, which also evoked a worry for the survival of animals in the future.

Dr. Valentina Mella, a postdoctoral researcher in the University’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, said in a statement, “What will happen when temperatures rise in summer to make the leaves even drier and the koalas require more relief? Increasing hot and dry conditions will mean more droughts and heat waves affecting the koalas’ habitat. It is believed that koalas are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they rely exclusively on trees — not only to sleep on but also for eating, which together comprise the bulk of their activities.”

As there are already only 43,000 koalas left in the wild, additional fears have now been introduced, as the planet gets warmer. Notably, that the need to consciously provide water sources for koalas could be crucial to protecting them as a species. Frend told Reuters, “I’m a big kid too when it comes to koalas, I think they’re a lovely animal and I’d hate to see them disappear. If I can help, well I get a certain amount of enjoyment out of that. Yeah, they’re a lovely species.” Dr. Mella said, “The scientific literature is filled with statements saying that koalas do not need to drink free water but our results show that koalas could benefit from water supplementation. This is a perfect example of how the understanding of animal behavior can be applied to solve pressing problems. We hope to use our findings to create a practical plan to manage Australia’s rural lands for this iconic species.”

Dr. Mella with a koala joey Credit: University of Sydney

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