ECHIDNA WALKABOUT'S UNIQUE WILD KOALA RESEARCH PROJECT
in 1998 Echidna Walkabout's co-founder Janine Duffy discovered a revolutionary method of identifying individual koalas by their natural nose markings. That discovery launched a non-intrusive wild koala research project that continues to this day. Over 18 years every wild koala sighted in the You Yangs or Brisbane Ranges national parks is photographed, named & identified, their sex established, location taken and tree species and height in tree noted.
- Since 1998 we have tracked and monitored the movements and lives of over 108 wild koalas that we encounter on our tours. Each resident koala is named, photographed and identifying markings are noted. These wild Koalas are not tagged, caught or handled in any way – they are identified by observation at a distance, through binoculars. Each day every koala found is located on a map and by GPS, they are photographed, their tree species and their behaviour is noted.
- This Project is our own initiative, and fully funded by our tour company. A Koala Researcher is employed one day per week to input data, Janine (owner) devotes two days per week to Koala Research analysis, and on every tour Koala Researchers go out ahead of the tour group to find Koalas and monitor them before the group arrives. This ensures a high degree of success with koala sightings (100% over the past 5 years) and adds 3 hours of monitoring data to each day’s sightings.
- Echidna Walkabout has developed a non-intrusive method of identifying individual wild koalas by their nose markings. The nose marking identification method was presented to a US human dimensions of wildlife conference in October 2014, and is increasingly used by koala groups all over Australia.
MAKE A HOME FOR KOALA CLANCY
Echidna Walkabout's Koala Research showed that wild koalas rarely use eucalypts surrounded by thick infestations of Boneseed – an introduced weed.
- in 2011 the Make a Home for Koala Clancy weed removal project began. On every Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD and Great Ocean Road tour, guests are offered the opportunity to remove a weed to help a koala. Nearly all guests participate enthusiastically, and most remove 10-20 weeds. It is estimated that 30,000 weeds are removed every year on these tours.
- In 2014 Koala Conservation Days for Locals were added to the project to educate and involve local people as volunteers. The days run twice a month and include weed removal, tree planting and maintenance and time spent learning about wild koalas. The cost of these days is kept low to encourage locals, and currently up to 80% of the cost is subsidised by Echidna Walkabout and Koala Clancy Foundation donors. Note: this is not a tour, and is not available to tourists.
- It is estimated that over 100,000 boneseed weeds are removed each year on Koala Conservation Days.
KOALA CLANCY FOUNDATION
Echidna Walkabout formed and is the primary supporter of the not for profit Koala Clancy Foundation “inspiring travellers and local communities to help ensure a future for wild koalas.” The foundation is set up to support wild koalas, particularly around the You Yangs and on the Western Plains of Victoria.
GHOST NET REMOVAL PROGRAM
On the Wildlife Journey to East Gippsland guests are offered an opportunity to remove Ghost Net - discarded fishing net - that has washed up on the beach. This old net is an ongoing hazard for marine wildlife - it can wash back out trapping albatrosses, seals or dolphins, or it can degrade into pieces that fill the bellies of seabirds, causing them to starve. It is fun and easy, and over the last three years we have removed large quantities of this dangerous hazard to marine life.
WILDLIFE GUIDE TRAINING
All our tours are fully guided by experienced, highly-trained Wildlife Guides.
We train our Wildlife Guides to be enthusiastic, inspirational interpreters of wildlife. Knowledge is critical, and they are encouraged to be constantly learning and improving their knowledge of wildlife. But style and delivery is just as important - a great tour is not a lecture series - a great tour is an interactive, highly individual self-learning experience for travellers, conducted by a Guide who helps them to make new discoveries about the place, the animals, the environment and about themselves.
Our Wildlife Guides are taught that silence is as important as talk - time for reflection helps memory; that action is more memorable than words; and that everyone learns differently - so listening, reading, seeing, feeling and doing things is incorporated into every tour.
Most importantly, every day is THE BEST DAY, and every creature is magnificent.
- Our Wildlife Guides are trained to impart an environmental ethic that respects the animals and ecosystems that we encounter. We inform our guests of the least intrusive way to behave around wild animals. We speak quietly around wildlife, walk slowly towards them, stopping often, and we insist that our guests do the same. We all remain at least 10 metres away from wild koalas as these animals are easily distressed but do not show it. With macropods (kangaroos & wallabies) we watch their body language and stop before they feel forced to depart. This is a self-imposed limit.
- We train our Wildlife Guides intensively and continuously and we encourage further learning on all aspects of the environment. Natural history books are available to all Guides on loan from our collection.
- The owners, each with over 23 years experience with wildlife, are often invited to give talks to interest groups, universities and community groups about wildlife behaviour and working with Australian wildlife in the wild. We often work with media, promoting the intrinsic value of wild animals, the region and the ethics of eco- and wildlife tourism.
WILDLIFE HABITAT CREATION:
- The wildlife habitat we support is a privately owned property of 14.5 ha/36 acres in the Brisbane Ranges west of Melbourne, adjacent to the Brisbane Ranges National Park. 75% of the property is natural Box-Ironbark woodland – an important and endangered habitat type. The other 25% of the property was old lightly grazed farmland, mostly cleared but largely covered in native grasses.
- Native Grasslands with Kangaroo grass, several varieties of wallaby grasses, spear grass, poa, weeping grass, native wildflowers and orchids improving each year. Native grasslands are one of Australia’s most endangered habitat types with only about 1% of Victoria's grasslands remaining.
- The aim for this site is to retain the existing habitat and improve it for the use of wildlife. So far we have created a new wetland from the remains of an old shed foundation, planted hundreds of indigenous trees and shrubs, encouraged native grasses and improved the water quality of the existing wetland where we have frogs, yabbies and visiting herons, spoonbills and more.
- We are creating wildlife corridors through regeneration and some revegetation, removing any weeds, and improving the diversity of the existing woodland.
- We have a resident mob of Eastern-grey Kangaroos, at least 2 Swamp/Black Wallabies, the occasional visit from a Koala and Echidnas, and many birds.
[photo - wild kangaroos relaxing on the property. Some recent plantings are in the foreground.]
IMPROVING OUR ENVIRONMENT ON TOURS:
- on all tours that visit the You Yangs Regional Park the Wildlife Guide and tour guests remove Boneseed - an invasive, introduced weed - as part of our Make a Home for Koala Clancy! project. Boneseed covers large areas and crowds out smaller native shrubs (particularly fruiting saltbushes) and grasses that are food for wallabies, kangaroos and a huge variety of small birds. We are currently removing over 30,000 boneseed weeds annually on tours. Wild koala sightings in the area we weed have doubled since the beginning of this program.
- we run Koala Conservation Days for Locals once a month with the purpose of educating local people about their wildlife, and removing Boneseed Weed. Each locals day removes 5,000 - 8,000 weeds.
- we take all rubbish with us when we go, often including anything we find left behind by others. All natural products (95% of our rubbish) are brought back to base and composted.
- we check the fireplaces left by others in the National Parks we visit, and put out any campfires left in a dangerous condition.
- we gently inform other park users of the laws and codes of the National Parks. For instance we often stop and ask dog owners to put their dog on a leash while in the You Yangs Regional Park, which helps protect the wildlife.
- we are active in promoting the care and rehabilitation of injured native wildlife. The owner and several of our Wildlife Guides hold permits for wildlife rescue and care.
- we train all our staff to look out for and report injured native wildlife. We stop and check road-killed animals, and often move them off the road to prevent native predators from being killed by cars whilst feeding on roadkill.
- we drive slowly in National Parks and wildlife areas to avoid killing or injuring wildlife on the road
- as a serious and committed ecotour operator, our emissions from vehicle fuel have long been a concern for us. While we can't forego the use of vehicles, we do everything we can to limit unnecessary usage. So we have implemented a simple, set pickup schedule in Melbourne city, just for the Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD one day tour. We have chosen five hotels that are quick and easy to access, are easy to find, and are already popular with our guests and agents. This limits fossil fuel use by reducing vehicle travel.
WATER CONSERVATION & LIMITING CHEMICAL USE:
- we clean our vehicles with one small bucket of water and an “Enjo”-style re-usable cloth that uses no chemicals and very little water to clean. After use the water is put on our native garden.
- we wash linen/tablecloths and all our own clothing in phosphate-free, biodegradable washing detergent.
- we wash crockery, cutlery and food containers using biodegradable detergents.
- we limit dishwasher use to full loads only.
- we buy only Australian fruit from our local market and independent businesses.
- we buy locally produced sandwiches made by an independent small business within 1km of our office/base. Food is picked up each morning on the way to the guest pickup.
- we support local independent shops and accommodation on our extended tours by eating-in at cafes some days and by ordering packed picnic lunches from our accommodation provider.
- we contract local independently-owned printers, and support local business wherever possible.
- Our office is powered by 100% renewable green power
- Our home is powered by solar electricity and solar hot water
- Computers, lights, heaters and appliances are turned off overnight and when not in use.
- Vehicles are serviced on time and maintained to ensure highest efficiency possible.
LIMITING USE OF PLASTIC & DISPOSABLES:
- we refuse to use single-use disposable plastic. We ask caterers to supply only washable, reusable crockery and cutlery and food containers.
- on all tours (including large group tours) guests eat and drink off ceramic or metal plates, cups and metal cutlery.
- we provide regular caterers with our own re-usable containers in advance so that they can pack take-away food.
- we are phasing out use of hard re-usable plastics, eg food storage containers, and only replacing with glass, plastic alternatives like bamboo or corn starch, wicker, metal or recycled cardboard.
- our staff are provided with re-usable glass or plastic alternative (bamboo) coffee cups for take-away coffee.
- we discourage the use of disposable plastic water bottles. On our booking pre-trip information it is recommended guests bring their own re-usable water bottle. Our vehicles carry a large water storage container, and fresh water is offered as a refill in guest's own water bottle, or in re-usable cups.
CLIENT PRE-TRIP INFORMATION:
- we call all extended tour clients the day before their tour to answer any questions they may have, confirm timings, what to bring, most suitable clothing and to give a weather forecast.
- we recommend guests bring their own re-usable water bottle, to limit disposable water bottle use.
- for day tours: we give all clients a note of introduction with important contact information, and a short summary of their day.
- for extended tours: we give all clients detailed wildlife and natural history notes.
- clients receive a keepsake – a wildlife art card produced on recycled paper, with some information about one of the animals we are likely to see on tour. The artwork is done in-house by the owner.
LOCAL COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT:
- all our Wildlife Guides, Koala Researchers live locally – many in the smaller towns outside of Melbourne, close to the sites where we operate.
- some staff are registered native wildlife carers
- we are active members of the local Field Naturalists Groups and Bird Observers Clubs in the areas we work in.
- we share our wildlife sightings with local people visiting the National Park – often passers-by notice our group looking at a koala, for instance, and so we invite them to join us for a short time to see and learn about the animal. This encourages local pride in the wildlife and in the area.
- we regularly run Koala Conservation days for Locals. These events are extremely popular and usually have a waitlist. The purpose of these days is to educate local people about their wildlife, especially wild koalas - how to find and watch them sustainably and report on sightings. On these days we also remove thousands of weeds that are invading koala habitat.
- from the beginning, the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative have been involved in our planning and research for tours in their area. They taught us what to say about their Culture and how to say it. They continue to be valued mentors to our business.
- one of our Wildlife Guides/Researchers is an Aboriginal woman from the Wathaurong Community.
- we promote and encourage Aboriginal–guided cultural interpretation on all group, special and private tours.
- we employ Aboriginal Guides as much as possible. No non-Aboriginal person should speak for the Aboriginal People of Australia. In addition, we and our Aboriginal mentors teach our non-Aboriginal Guides about the protocols of dealing with, and speaking about, Aboriginal People
- we create awareness and understanding of the local Aboriginal Culture by working with and learning from the local indigenous people, employing indigenous people where possible, including them in tours where possible and passing on respect for their culture to our guests and staff.
REDUCE, RE-USE, RECYCLE ON TOURS:
- we minimise vehicle travel and fuel use by employing local people and using local suppliers and businesses as much as possible.
- we minimise off-road vehicle travel. Our tours are designed in such a way that vehicle travel is conducted on made roads. We do not use four-wheel drive vehicles for passenger transport – they are not required and their energy costs are high.
- we avoid disposable plastic bags for carrying or storage of fruit. Instead we pack our fruit into re-usable, washable canvas bags for carrying, and store fruit in re-used stay-fresh green bags designed to keep food fresh. These bags are washed and re-used until they wear out.
- we avoid disposable products. Our cutlery, crockery and food containers are all enamel, metal and hard recyclable plastic* (*will not be replaced - see below) and are washed and re-used.
- We avoid plastic. When a hard plastic item wears out we replace it with plant-based biodegradable alternatives, metal, sustainable timber, recycled paper or cardboard, fabric or wicker.
- we transport food in hard containers which are washed and re-used, or in paper bags which are composted or recycled.
- we discourage the use of throw-away plastic water bottles by recommending that travellers bring their own bottle which we re-fill on request with tap water from a large storage container. We do not provide disposable water bottles to our guests – if travellers don’t have their own bottle we offer a cup which we wash and re-use.
- we pack dirty dishes in washable fabric bags while on tour, rather than in plastic.
- we compost food scraps. The compost is used on our bush property/wildlife refuge to assist the growth of native plants.
- we only use 100% recycled office paper. When we can’t avoid printing documents, we double-side and recycle our own. All incoming paper is checked for a clean back and placed in the printer for another use. Our brochures and business cards are produced on 100% recycled stock.
- we recycle all paper, glass and suitable plastics & aluminium through the local government recycling system.
- our office and home use low-voltage light globes; all lighting, heating, computers and office equipment are turned off overnight; we do not use air-conditioning in our office or home.
- linen, tablecloths and our own clothes are dried on a washing line outside. We choose not to have a clothes dryer.
- we compost all food scraps and natural products.
- water is conserved in our office – see Water Conservation
- the wildlife habitat buildings are fully 6 star rated energy-efficient design incorporating passive solar collection, double-glazed windows, full insulation to ceilings, walls and under floors and use plantation and sustainably–harvested non-rainforest timbers throughout.
- the property effectively uses solar power and solar hot water and outside lighting, a worm farm, compost bins, low energy/low water appliances. Rainwater collected in tanks is used throughout and all grey/black waste is treated in an environmentally-friendly system which uses worms and other organisms to turn waste into safe irrigation water.