This Christmas we had a delightful visitor at Pilyara – a very friendly and curious Koala in a pear tree (instead of a partridge!). After kindly posing for the camera, he soon moved on to a more appropriate gum tree. In the early days of settlement, Koalas were locally common in the surrounding Messmate and Mountain Ash forests. But in the early 1900s these iconic marsupials were heavily hunted for their fur, which was exported to Europe. Timber-cutting also became rampant. Consequently, Koala numbers crashed.
In the 1920’s, a man named Frederick Lewis was the Chief Inspector of Fisheries and Game in Victoria. An early conservationist, Lewis began a large-scale program to remove vulnerable Koalas to ‘safe havens’, where they could breed up and be eventually restored to their former range. Since then, thousands of Koalas have been relocated to over 250 release sites across Victoria, in one of the most sustained and extensive wildlife reintroduction programs ever undertaken. The nearby Bunyip Forest is one of those release sites.
Our adorable visitor is a result of Frederick Lewis’ vision. His orange ear tag shows he was translocated from Snake Island in Western Port Bay. It’s very heartening to see Koalas reclaiming their former range after a century-long absence. A neighbour even found an adventurous young Koala hanging out on their back door! Let’s hope these pioneering Koalas will be the first of many, to call Pilyara home once again.