An Unbearable Situation (They’re not Bears!)

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experiences online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

Senior Educator, Lisa Townsend, wears many hats throughout her job including developing curriculum, publishing articles for Zoonooz magazine and caring for animals. However, one aspect of Ms. Townsend’s job she finds most gratifying is field research and koala conservation education. Ms. Townsend has been actively working on a project focusing on the conservation of koalas in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia.

Koalas of the Blue Mountains have faced anthropogenic threats including hunters, agricultural development, and more recently, bush fires, disease and domestic dogs. As a result, koala populations in the Blue Mountains have declined substantially throughout the years. Fortunately, locals to the Blue Mountains have begun spotting koalas again!

Using their previous studies, radio collar technology, and cooperation from Australia’s government, the San Diego Zoo team was able to begin the process of locating koalas residing in the Blue Mountains. However, this turned out to be quite a challenging task comparable to finding a needle in a haystack. The koalas would generally rest near the tops of 180 foot tall trees in the region and could cover large distances. Given the magnitude of the task at hand, the team often included a number of willing volunteers to help spot the marsupials in the canopy of the eucalyptus forests. Once koalas were spotted, they were encouraged to climb down by waving a flag above them coaxing them to climb down to the ground. Once on the ground, researchers would tag and asses the health of each koala.

Given that koalas are such an iconic and charismatic species, Ms. Townsend believes conservation efforts are incredibly important. Koalas serve as flagship species meaning that when they are protected, their entire ecosystems are protected. Currently, due to human-caused pressures, koalas are listed as vulnerable. With the largest population of koalas outside of Australia, the San Diego Zoo hopes to learn about both their own and wild koalas to better improve current conservation programs and educate the public. In order to effectively communicate and interpret these efforts to the public, Ms. Townsend creates local curriculum and writes informative articles for the Zoo’s Zoonooz.

Even though Koalas are isolated geographically to Australia, we can all make a difference locally to help globally. Firstly, we must reduce our carbon emissions, waste production, energy and pesticide use. We must pick up our trash. In addition, we must be willing to speak about conservation issues in order to educate and make a difference. In the words of Ms. Townsend, “It’s our world and it has not been cared for. It can be fixed, it’s just going to take some work.”

Gianfranco, Conservation Team
Winter Session, 2017

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