Steve Irwin’s vet off to Richard Branson's island
THE man who provided crucial veterinary advice to Steve Irwin and established the Australian Wildlife Hospital will help head up the koala conservation initiative on Makepeace Island.
Endeavour Veterinary Ecology Managing Director Dr Jon Hanger was approached by Makepeace Island staff to launch the Richard Branson Koala Conservancy with University of the Sunshine Coast Microbiology Professor, Peter Timms.
Dr Hanger, who is based at Toorbul, is highly regarded for his research and veterinary expertise, particularly with koalas.
He was the first scientist to genetically sequence the koala retrovirus and was appointed to the Queensland Government's Koala Task during Anna Bligh's term and has also consulted with the Sunshine Coast Council on its Biodiversity strategy.
He was personally recruited by the late Steven Irwin to establish the wildlife hospital and its specialist koala rehabilitation unit in 2004 and was involved until leaving the zoo in 2010.
He is also the founding member of the Koala Research Network and has developed various documents for the training of veterinarians and biologists on koalas.
Dr Hanger said Sir Richard's announcement today was good news for the future of koalas.
"The island will provide a base we can set up to conduct research work from," he said.
Initially the focus will be on determining why Noosa's koala population has declined in the past decade.
"Our first step is to find out what the major impacts are on this particular population," he said.
Once koalas have been found, they will be fitted with a tracking system to observe the movements and locations of the project koalas in real time.
"We will do veterinary examinations on all the koalas we track," he said.
"The main benefit of the island is that it is a very central area to work out of.
"We don't have good information on the koala population on the Noosa North shore.
Dr Hanger said koala advocate Ray Chambers comments this week too little was being done too late to save the koalas was a "fair call".
The state government Environment Minister Steven Miles has acknowledged what has been done was not working well," he said.
"There needs to be another look and Ray and Murray (his brother) are passionate guys who love their koalas.
"We are very keen to start with the pilot project (on Makepeace) investigating the abundance and health of the population and anything could eventuate."
Having someone with Sir Richard's profile would make an impact.
"It is wonderful that someone with Richard Branson's profile has taken an interest in conserving koalas," Dr Hanger said.
"Who knows where it can go to."