Towards a Better Habitat for Koalas, One Photo At a Time

Koalas, Australia’s most adorable mascot, are in danger as humans threaten their habitat. Francois Detaille, Amazing Aerial team member and curator of the photo exhibition “My Future Is In Your Hands,” put his camera to work to raise awareness and pay tribute to koala rescuers in Queensland, Australia.
environment features Apr 19, 2024
A koala sits in a eucalyptus tree in a forest near Brisbane. The animals are endangered due to humans’ increasingly close proximity to their habitat. (photo credit: Francois Detaille) © Amazing Aerial / Francois Detaille
A koala sits in a eucalyptus tree in a forest near Brisbane. The animals are endangered due to humans’ increasingly close proximity to their habitat.© Amazing Aerial Agency / Francois Detaille

By Rebecca Duras



Between the 24th of November and the 7th of December 2023, visitors to the People’s Gallery at Brisbane City Hall were met by the gazes of dozens of koalas. The photo exhibition “My Future Is in Your Hands,” curated by Amazing Aerial team member Francois Detaille, was there to raise awareness about the dangers facing koalas and to raise funds for the Queensland Koala Society, a local koala rescue center, to build a koala kindy to rehabilitate orphaned koalas. 

Francois has been fascinated with koalas ever since he moved with his wife and kids from France to Australia 10 years ago. “When you’ve never seen a marsupial, your first sighting is unforgettable, and to this day I’m still amazed every time I spot one in the wild,” he said in a phone call with Amazing Aerial. He’s since developed a special fascination for those unique creatures as they are far harder to spot than their more common marsupial relatives, kangaroos. 

“I’ve always photographed them, so when I started to move to professional aerial photography about 1-2 years ago I also invested in a better zoom camera to increase the quality of my koala shots,” he tells us. 

Still, better technology is not enough to photograph those elusive animals. They tend to perch high in the trees, meaning photographers need a strong zoom to get a high quality  shot. Drones may help photographers to get high enough, but the noise tends to scare the animals, and regulations strictly proscribe safe distances to avoid disturbing the animals.  What you really need is the skill to spot them, a skill that Francois has developed through years of practice. “You have to look up for a while, and look really high, because they tend to be high up in the tree, often sitting in the fork of the tree. Also, as they tend to camouflage with the tree bark, they can easily be mixed up with termite mounds which are common in our eucalyptus forests,” he explains. He also shared with us more tips he’s developed for spotting koalas, such as looking for claw marks on tree bark or spotting their droppings on the ground.


Francois then started to follow other local photographers taking amazing shots of local koalas. In the meantime he approached the Queensland Koala Society in mid-2023 and met with Angela Christodolou, the manager, who asked him if he would be keen to organise a photo exhibition to help raise funds for their koala “kindy.” Francois said yes straight away.

Although koalas are a universal symbol of their native Australia, in 2022 they were listed as endangered according to Australian environmental law. Urban sprawl and property development along with the devastating bushfires from the past few years have all threatened the Australian’s koala population.

“A lot of rescue organizations try to influence policy makers to put more regulations around housing development,” Francois says, “those eucalyptus are also very unique and you can’t just transplant them somewhere else.” These lobby efforts are not always successful in the face of the powerful development industry.

Even when developments don’t cut down eucalyptus forests, they bring humans in closer contact with koalas, which is dangerous for the animals. For instance, koalas, especially mothers and joeys (baby koalas), are often victims of roadkill. Many Brisbane residents walk their dogs in the eucalyptus forests surrounding the city, and unleashed dogs have attacked koalas unlucky enough to fall into their path, often with deadly results.


Another shot of Whites Hill Reserve, showing how close the city of Brisbane is to the forest.. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Francois Detaille

That is where organisations like the Queensland Koala Society step in. They do the hard work of rescuing koalas that have been affected by proximity to humans, whether that’s helping orphaned joeys grow up or nursing a dog attack survivor back to health. The work is resource-intensive and hard, which Francois got to know during the process of preparing the exhibit. “You have to feed the joeys with formula every 3-4 hours, so it’s actually a 24/7 job!” he says. 

When preparing the exhibition, Francois connected with other photographers in the Brisbane area that were also passionate about koalas. He knew some from his own work and through social media communities, while others were recommended by the rescue center. He then collected all the photos, curated and edited them as well as taking shots of his own. All the photos were either black & white or colour printed on fine art paper and then timber framed.


Two koalas pose for a portrait that was exhibited in the People’s Gallery at Brisbane City Hall.. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Francois Detaille

The highlights of the exhibit were the portraits of orphaned joeys that Francois took with a fellow photographer at the rescue center, allowing him to get up close and personal with the koalas. Like any babies, koala joeys are uncooperative when it’s time to sit still. “Photographing them requires a fair bit of patience as they can climb on you in the blink of an eye,” Francois recalls. “We used a lot of teddy bears for them to climb on, and also had 2 or 3 koalas at a time so that the older koalas could let the younger ones grip onto their back.” 

The hard work paid off, and the exhibit “My Future Is In Your Hands” was a resounding success. 150 people visited for opening night, and there was so much interest that the exhibit was extended for a few more days. It also succeeded in raising significant funds for the Queensland Koala Society. Francois recalls that, on the opening night, both lucky door prize winners chose to auction their photos, raising even more money to build the koala “kindy.” This enclosure uses eucalyptus trees to mimic a koala’s natural habitat so that orphaned joeys can learn important skills such as climbing and feeding. “It’s really important to make sure that, once they are released, they’re fully autonomous and able to survive in the wild on their own,” says Francois.


A koala joey poses in the hands of a rescuer. The babies are often difficult to photograph due to their playful nature.. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Francois Detaille

In the end, Francois and the team of photographers were happy that their work helped raise awareness about the importance of preserving those amazing creatures. “It’s really something that we need to share with the wider community and increase awareness, because a lot of people go to these parks and forests to walk the dog or whatever, and they don’t look up enough. They’ve never seen a koala, they think there’s no koalas but actually they are here,” he says.


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