She can also compare the vegetation and terrain of the release area with the rescue location, since koalas have trouble acclimating to a new location that’s substantially different from their home terrain.
“If the koala came from an area that is flood-prone and you release it in a mountainous area, they are not always able to digest the leaves” in the release area, even if the leaves are from the same species of plant they were eating in their original habitat, Lehmann explained.
The work of MBKR is critical to the sustainability of Australia’s koala population. In the past twenty years, the koala population on the Koala Coast near Brisbane has declined by 80 percent, according to a 2016 report.
“We are cutting down all the trees that koalas favour, especially trees that grow alongside rivers with good rainfall — and that’s exactly where people want to live. Many of the council areas have no vegetation management act, so anyone can clear whatever they like,” said Lehmann. Unfortunately, without stronger policy intervention, “extinction is inevitable in certain areas.”
With the koala population endangered, finding the right place to release newly healthy koalas is crucial to ensuring they can re-integrate in new habitats and thrive. The fact that Nearmap’s imagery is up to date and high resolution means that Lehmann can see an accurate version of what’s bush and what’s developed, as well as identify the best access points for entering a new habitat to release the koala.
“At one stage, I started looking at Google Maps, and these were from 2004. I would look at a particular section, and it looks like it’s bush, but I know there’s absolutely nothing there for the koala” because she knows that the area has since been developed, said Lehmann.
“Google was not good enough for what we needed,” she explained.
The best part about using Nearmap imagery for Lehmann is being able to adjust the zoom level. “If I find a really good area, for instance the edge of a national park, it might be next to an area where people live, a cul de sac, so I can see how I can have access to this area without disturbing the people who live there.”
Lehmann also uses Nearmap to track vegetation clearing activity that the local council may not be aware of. “Every now and then I notice a new area that I didn’t know was going to be cleared. I’ll actually call the council and say, ‘what’s going on in that area?’ Once or twice they did an investigation and came back and said it was illegal. And this is why Nearmap is really great — it’s regularly updated.”
Recently, MBKR rescued a joey named Rowen near a huge development adjacent to a new 12km rail link. “Rowen was found totally alone, by himself, non mum, dehydrated, afraid, 700 grams,” said Lehmann.
“We lost over 300” of the koala population in the area near the new rail link, explained Lehmann. “Next to that area is a big lake, and there is one strip of land that [the government] left after they built the rail. We know there were about 20 koalas happily living there.” During the last breeding season, eight of those koalas had joeys, and “we needed to make sure these joeys have a place to disperse to.”
Rowen is now part of a koala tracking program and is set to be released in 6-8 weeks. Thanks to Nearmap, Lehmann knows exactly where to set him free.