Nature conservation

Native animals

Koala conservation in south eastern NSW

Although once abundant, koalas are now rarely seen in the south eastern corner of NSW. Since 2007 a team of Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) staff led by South East Regional Operations has worked with community-based contractors and volunteers to survey koala populations in this part of the state and support the conservation of the surviving koalas.

Koala survey volunteers needed now

The South Coast Koala Survey team is entering a new intensive phase of monitoring and surveying. We are looking for active, fit volunteers to help us undertake this very important work. Volunteering involves off track bushwalking, searching for koala activity under trees and recording data.

If you are interested in becoming a member or our Koala surveying team please fill in the following form and we will be in touch with further information.


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Read the survey report

Download the 2012-14 Koala survey report in coastal forests of south-eastern NSW - Bermagui/Mumbulla area (PDF 1.1MB)

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How we do the surveys

  • Since 2007 the survey program has focused on four localities in South East NSW: the coastal forests in the Bermagui-Mumbulla area; escarpment forests to the south west of Bega; and woodlands and forests to the east and north east of Cooma and in the Palerang Shire in the Southern Tablelands. The same program has also undertaken a major survey in the Strzelecki Ranges in Victoria.
  • The survey method is the Regularised Grid-based Spot Assessment Technique, one of the most commonly used across the koala's range.
  • The Technique enables the collection of information about the distribution, abundance and preferred habitat of each koala population.
  • In the field the survey teams hike to survey sites that are located in a pre-determined grid pattern across each study area.
  • At each grid-site the team members a systematic and repeatable search for koala pellets in forest litter under 30 trees.
  • The survey's relatively simple techniques have enabled the involvement of inexperienced community members in collecting information in the field, in turn creating opportunities for team-building and community and stakeholder collaboration.

Survey outcomes

  • Overall the program has involved hundreds of people that has enabled the assessment of more than 60,000 hectares of koala habitat in South East NSW.
  • Of the more than 2,000 grid-sites searched, evidence of koalas was found at approximately 45% of sites in the Southern Tablelands, 10% in the coastal areas, 1.5% in Palerang and 0% in the escarpment forests.
  • DNA extracted from pellet samples have established that two unique genotypes occur in the Southern Tablelands and one in the coastal forests.
  • The dedication of the community-based volunteers and contractors is extraordinary and their contribution has helped the survey to cover the vast expanse of forest and woodlands.
  • Thanks to the dedication of community volunteers, much more is known about koala populations in South East NSW.
  • This information is now guiding koala conservation in the South East NSW coastal forests and Southern Tablelands, informing management decisions by a range of stakeholders across forestry, fire management and forest rehabilitation.

Survey challenges

  • Koalas have suffered localised extinctions and often occur at very low densities. This means than many days can be spent searching for evidence without success.
  • Volunteers have made a significant contribution, but in the past there have been times with there have not been enough resources to consolidate wider input and provide good information about the progress of the survey.

What was unexpected?

  • The NSW Rural Fire Service has made a significant contribution to the survey program and associated management decisions, with some local brigade members participating as volunteers. This highlighted the deep local support across the community for koala conservation.
  • A small but significant recovery in the core area of the coastal forests koalas was indicated by an increase in proportions of both grid-sites and trees with koala evidence between 2007-09 and 2012-14. The koalas are still endangered, but there's now more confidence that they can recover.

Lessons learnt

  • Patient persistence is important: of the 60,000 trees searched, only 1% had koala evidence.
  • It is worth the effort to invest in community volunteers. Maintaining the volunteer network requires lots of time. Progress can also be slower as volunteers often work at a more relaxed pace and spend shorter periods in the field. However, information sharing and community-building through volunteer networks is key to the recovery of the koala population.

Photo gallery

Koala survey site in Kooraban National Park (Chris Allen OEH)
Koala survey site in Kooraban National Park
Yuin Kelly and Angela Parsons (Merrimans LALC) assisting with the survey
Yuin Kelly and Angela Parsons (Merrimans LALC) assisting with the survey
Yuin, deep in the forest
Yuin, deep in the forest
Aboriginal Discovery Ranger Cathy Thomas assisting with the survey
Aboriginal Discovery Ranger Cathy Thomas assisting with the survey
Finding fresh koala pellets
Finding fresh koala pellets
Yuin and Angela finding koala pellets
Yuin and Angela finding koala pellets
Another koala in Mumbulla
Koala in Mumbulla
Yuri and Katina (Chris Allen OEH)
Yuri and Katina (Chris Allen OEH)

More information on koala conservation

Find out more about volunteering with the Office of Environment and Heritage. Find out more about koalas and koala conservation projects

Page last updated: 25 August 2016