Parched koalas seek out new wa­ter sources

New Straits Times - - World -

GUNNEDAH (Aus­tralia): Koalas are stand­ing on their hind legs for more than 10 min­utes at a time to gulp wa­ter at drink­ing sta­tions in Aus­tralia as ris­ing tem­per­a­tures and rain­fall dis­rup­tion drive the an­i­mals to search for new sources of mois­ture, sci­en­tists say.

The des­per­a­tion to slake their thirst is driv­ing a change in the habits of the tree-dwelling species, with an­i­mals ready to run the risk of at­tack from preda­tors on the ground in their scram­ble for wa­ter.

Rather than re­ly­ing solely on eu­ca­lyp­tus leaves for nour­ish­ment and mois­ture, more than 100 koalas drank from wa­ter sta­tions both on the ground and in trees over the au­tumn and win­ter months, cam­era footage showed.

“The more days with­out rain, the longer the vis­its koalas had at the wa­ter sta­tions,” said re­searcher Valentina Mella of the Univer­sity of Syd­ney’s School of Life and En­vi­ron­men­tal Sciences.

The re­searchers placed cam­eras and pur­pose-built wa­ter sta­tions around a farm in the ru­ral town here more than 300km from Aus­tralia’s most pop­u­lous city, Syd­ney, and home to a large koala pop­u­la­tion.

“What we found in cooler months was that koalas used the wa­ter sta­tions ex­ten­sively and that the use of the wa­ter sta­tions was re­lated to rain­fall,” Mella added.

The koalas were drink­ing wa­ter for an av­er­age of more than 10 min­utes even dur­ing the win­ter month of Au­gust last year, Mella found.

Sci­en­tists pre­vi­ously be­lieved that koalas only needed to con­sume leaves, and did not drink.

“To see them in this area, where there just isn’t any wa­ter, was cer­tainly a shock and an eye­opener,” said farmer Robert Frend, the de­signer of the koala drink­ing sta­tion whose prop­erty was used for the study.

Mella and Frend want to cre­ate a flat-pack de­sign for the “Blinky Drinker”, as the wa­ter sta­tions have been dubbed, stream­lin­ing them to be more ac­ces­si­ble for koalas, and eas­ier for farm­ers and landown­ers to in­stall.

The re­searchers will next eval­u­ate find­ings from the sum­mer sea­son, which runs from De­cem­ber to Fe­bru­ary, when koalas were prob­a­bly thirstier than dur­ing win­ter.

Most of Aus­tralia’s east coast en­dured its hottest sum­mer on record be­tween Dec 1 and Feb 28, the in­de­pen­dent Cli­mate Coun­cil said this month.

The koala was listed as a “vul­ner­a­ble” species un­der an Aus­tralian con­ser­va­tion law in 2012. There are fewer than 100,000 of the an­i­mals left in the wild, per­haps even as few as 43,000, the Aus­tralian Koala Foun­da­tion es­ti­mates. Reuters

REUTERS PIC

A koala drink­ing from a bird bath at a ru­ral prop­erty in Gunnedah, Aus­tralia.

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