Education and Research

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Tours at our Care Centre in East Lismore

If you want to learn a lot about koalas, attending one of our tours at the Koala Care and Research Centre at 23 Rifle Range Road, East Lismore is a great way of doing so. Our experienced volunteers give an informative and interesting talk covering many aspects of koalas and how you can help as an individual in our fight to save them.  As well as answering questions you might have, you also get a peek at koalas we have in care at the time, and might be lucky enough to sight one or two in the wild in koala food trees around our Centre.

Our tours are at 10 am and 2 pm Monday to Friday and 10 am on Saturday. Although you don’t have to book, it’s a good idea to call 6621 4464 in the morning after 8.30 am and let us know you’re coming.

Whilst there is no fee, we do ask people attending to make a donation of $10 for a family or $5 per person as this contributes to the costs of rehabilitating koalas we’ve rescued.

Koalas in the Northern Rivers

Koalas are extremely cute to look at and watch, but nevertheless are wild animals with very sharp teeth and long, sharp claws. They’re a very specialised animal to both care for and rescue. Because of this there are licensing controls and legal requirements concerning their care. Visit the NSW National Parks and Wildlife website to find out more about wildlife licensing in New South Wales.

Click on the following documents to learn more about koalas in the Northern Rivers:

Research on Koalas

Our own ‘post mortem’ contribution to research on koalas 

     Allen at work in our ‘laundry’

Friends of the Koala is indeed lucky to have the specialised skills that Allen Pearson brought when he joined FOK in December 2012. Allen is approaching retirement from human pathology, is a medically retired veterinary surgeon, and holds certain beliefs about the environment that are important to him.

Whilst he started his volunteering doing a Sunday afternoon general care shift he soon became involved in collecting regular skin ear wedge samples fixed in alcohol for various institutions for genomic assessment. In November 2014 Sydney University PhD candidate, Caroline Marschner, visited Friends of the Koala to provide an update on her project. Caroline had been working at the University’s veterinary pathology laboratory service on a casual basis. She was able to share her expertise in koala necropsies with Allen to enable him to collect certain specific koala tissue samples for different research projects in which the Koala Infectious Diseases Research Group (KIDReG) is involved.

These samples necessitated complete autopsies, which involved a learning curve and balancing act to fit into the general business of FOK the series of activities required before a consignment of ‘pathologically viable’ specimens, often fresh frozen, arrives at a laboratory in a distant city by overnight express. Indeed, some of the preparation and storage is carried out at Allen’s home. Another volunteer, Elspeth Berger is now assisting Allen with these post mortems, which they carry out only early on Sunday mornings on frozen and thawed cadavers in the back room of the Care Centre for logistical reasons .

As an additional benefit to the autopsies, Allen and Elspeth try to forensically assess the koalas’ health status leading up to the end of life event, with the prime aim being to gather knowledge. According to Allen, the more they do, the more they see patterns that link ‘the jigsaw puzzle’ together.  ‘We have access to histopathology services from the University’s Koala Health Hub (KHH), which are essential for discovering what the tissue pattern is that we are seeing. It is amazing what a multiplicity of disease patterns result from cases where Chlamydiosis is ‘probably’ the primary offender,’ Allen says. His recent purchase of a smartphone means that he can photograph abnormalities and receive an initial opinion from KHH, which helps him decide whether to send any specimens for histopathology analysis. This also enables networking instantaneously with appropriate people in other organisations, which is proving invaluable.

In the future, Allen would like to develop all activities both in the extent and quality of guiding protocols, improving networking with lay and professional people and sharing of information. The  construction of FOK.s new building presents all kinds of possibilities for these valuable activities.

Local studies on Koalas in the Northern Rivers of NSW

Other koala research

Threats to Koalas

Downloadable file of Threats to Koalas [1.4MB].

Fragmentation/Loss of Habitat

Since European settlement, approximately 80% of koala habitat has been cleared. Of the remaining 20%, little is protected and most occurs on fragmented privately-owned land. Animals need to be able to move safely between different habitats through vegetation corridors and preferably by jumping from tree to tree. When forest is cleared for roads, houses and agriculture, koalas lose vital habitat and must face many dangers in order to find food, shelter and mates.


  • Plant koala food trees to help connect habitats in your back yard, at school, along fences and waterways.
  • Road crossings for animals
  • Drive carefully and pay attention to road signage – slow down!

Predation by Dogs, Cats & Foxes

Hunting is normal behaviour for these animals and a koala’s best chance of surviving when in the vicinity of these predators is to keep them away from it.


  • Keep cats inside or in a cage (especially at night from dusk to dawn).
  • Preferably keep dogs in koala-proof runs or on leads in your yard
  • Check trees around your house for koalas before leaving dogs unattended
  • consider fox baiting programs
  • for more information download our Responsible dog ownership information brochure [1.7MB]


Koalas are badly affected by a disease called Chlamydia. This is a small organism that is worst in koala populations under stress, for example when food is scarce, and causes several diseases in koalas:

  • Conjunctivitis, which can cause blindness
  • Pneumonia
  • Urinary tract infections and reproductive tract infections that can cause female infertility


  • If you see a Koala, look closely to see if it has sore eyes, a brown stained rump or is behaving unusually and if so, call our Rescue Hotline on 6622 1233.
  • Plant koala food trees to help maintain healthy Koala populations.

Unfriendly Fencing

Fences stop koalas from moving freely between habitats. They will climb most fences and can be caught on barbed wire or get into a yard with a dog and can’t get out.


  • Educate the community on dangers of barbed wire and unfriendly fencing.
  • Plant vegetation hedges instead of fences if you don’t have a dog.
  • Avoid barbed wire fences, leave a gap at the bottom of the fence for Koalas to go underneath, or use friendly fences that have wooden posts or poles every 20m.
  • Put lattices at the top of fences with occasional panels to the ground.
  • Distribute a brochure on the issue and refer to wildlife friendly fencing website


Whenever a bushfilre occus the media focus is naturally on human life and property. However koalas, along with most other wildlife, are at great risk from bushfires. Bushfires destroy the understory and a hot fire will burn the canopy, leaving no food for Koalas, and a forest can take up to 10 years to recover from a major burn. In habitats surrounded by development, a single fire can wipe out an entire Koala population.


  • Councils and National Parks need to ensure that hazard prevention burning occurs in stages i.e sections are burned each year not the whole area at once
  • We all need to observe rules and stay out of National Parks and council reserves when they are closed due to ‘Total Fire Bans’

Links to Koala Fact Sheets

Standardised ultrasonographic protocol
Chlamydial Swab Collection
Koala Retrovirus
Chlamydia in Koalas
Koalas & Genetic Diversity