Cobber is part of the original group at the koala rehabilitation project in Tandora
Cobber is part of the original group at the koala rehabilitation project in Tandora Annie Perets

Behind the scene of a radical koala rescue mission

AS URBAN development took over Cobber the koala's natural habitat in Tinana, a desperate search for a tree ended in him being hit by a car.

Following a miracle recovery, the now seven-year-old lives like a king at one of the region's oldest cattle stations.

Cobber is part of a koala rehabilitation program, established at the legendary Tandora, north of Maryborough.


Koala rehabilitation project at Tandora
HEALTH CHECK: Koala Cobber is measurered so his growth can be tracked. Annie Perets

Here, he has all the leaves he could ever want and receives regular health checks.

In 2014, about a dozen rescued koalas were fitted with tracking devices and released onto the property.

Some had been displaced, some were sick, while others, like Cobber, were injured.


Koala rehabilitation project at Tandora - koala Cobber.
Cobber under anesthetics during his check-up. Annie Perets

All of them were relocated from the Tinana area which has experienced rapid growth in recent years.

The rescue project is unique in that it is reintroducing koalas in an area where they had been extinct.

Before the program, koalas were absent from Tandora for at least 80 years.

Since the program's inception four years ago, nine new babies have been identified.


Koala rehabilitation project at Tandora - ecologist Dr Sean Fitzgibbon with Nola.
Ecologist Dr Sean Fitzgibbon with the adorable Nola. Annie Perets

About every three months, a group from The University of Queensland travel to Tandora to perform check-ups on the furry residents.

The Chronicle caught up with ecologist, Dr Sean Fitzgibbon and veterinarian, Dr Amber Gillett as they visited the property this week.

The process of finding their patients varies in difficulty.

Tracking devices placed around the neck are rubber for safety reasons meaning some have come off.

Newborns are yet to be fitted with the devices and must also be found manually.

A dog squad, which is trained in sniffing out koala droppings and a thermal imagining drone which graphs koalas as "hot spots" are used to help in the search.

Dr Gillett sets up a portable laboratory at a house at Tandora, which is equipped with everything she needs to give the koalas a full inspection.

When it's Cobber's time, he is first put under anaesthesia before Dr Gillett looks him over for wounding and signs of diseases.

She takes a blood and a bone marrow sample, before testing him for chlamydia.


Koala rehabilitation project at Tandora
One of tracking device used to monitor the koalas. Annie Perets

The disease is a leading killer of koala populations, with the bacterial infection often leading to blindness, severe bladder inflammations, infertility and death.

About 75 per cent of the koalas which are part of the rehabilitation program have previously suffered from chlamydia.

"We are monitoring to see how long they remain free of it," Dr Gillett said.

"With no new koalas coming into the population since 2015, we want to prove that the treatment is effective when not exposed to other koalas with chlamydia."

The koalas also get an ultrasound exam, which is useful for both genders.


Koala rehabilitation project at Tandora
Dr Amber Gillett and Cobber. Annie Perets

The girls are checked for pregnancy and their reproduction system gets a look over.

For the boys, the emphasis of the ultrasound is on clearing them of bladder issues.

The final phase is for the koalas to be weighed and measured to record growth.

When it's time for Cobber to wake up, he's understandably dazed and confused but is rewarded with a vibrant branch of blue gum leaves.

Dr Gillett predicts Cobber has about five more years to live.

Up next on the vet table is baby Nola.


Koala rehabilitation project at Tandora - koala Nola
Koala rehabilitation project at Tandora - koala Nola Annie Perets

The adorable Joey is not quiet as used to the health check procedure as veteran Cobber, and isn't a fan of being separated from her mum.

The researchers shared with the Chronicle the exciting news that more koalas could be introduced into the population soon in order to improve the genetic pool.

Along with helping to strengthen the population at Tandora, the relocation will help save the lives of other koalas currently struggling.

"Sadly in Tinana, due to development, potentially more koalas will be needing homes soon," Dr FitzGibbon said.

"Some of the ones that have come here had either been sick, or found as orphans."

Tandora owner Lindsay Titmarsh said he had loved having the adorable marsupials join the property where they have ample access to peppermint, blue gum trees and ironbark trees.

Fraser Coast wildlife carer Natalie Richardson said koala numbers in Tinana began to rapidly decline from 2010.

"They lost major area of prime habitat, and there was a huge spike of incidents," Ms Richardson said.

"There was an increase of the disease chlamydia as well."

If you see an injured koala, call Ms Richardson from Wildlife Rescue Fraser Coast on 41213146.