When does a number actually represent more than itself? When we are talking about individuals that represent their greater species.
Back in December, as wildfires raged through the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Dr. Kellie Leigh was busy tracking koalas she had been studying in Kanangra-Boyd National Park. Normally, she would be tracking these koalas to see what trees they were using or if they were near other koalas, but with fires racing towards this area of the Blue Mountains, Kellie had a different agenda, she set out to rescue these koalas. In the end, she was able to find 12 koalas and was able to safely get them out of the line of fire—literally.
Fast-forward to today, as the world is engrossed in COVID-19 news, Kellie is focused on those 12 koalas. Now, it is time for those koalas to go back home, but how does she know they can survive in the fire-ravaged Blue Mountains? We still see news about food drops and water supplementation for the animals in those burn areas.
For the past few weeks, Dr. Leigh and her team of volunteers have been assessing a location near where she rescued the 12 to see if are there other koalas already living in the space and if they find them, what condition are those koalas in? What does the tree canopy look like? Can the trees support koalas? Will these 12 koalas even eat from the trees in this area (koalas are very picky eaters and rightfully so, given what they are eating)?
As it turns out, not only are the 12 eating the browse harvested from this area, but it appears this is a very good area to release them, because of what Kellie and her team discovered. They have found hope for the 12 in the form of two healthy koalas that already call this area home already. One, now named Siren, was carrying a little one in her pouch too (yay, a joey!). Although the numbers seem small they really mean a lot more than their sums. Two koalas that give hope for 12 who give hope for the rest of their species.
Jennifer Tobey, M.A. is a Population Sustainability researcher for San Diego Zoo Global.