Koalas Under Threat


Earlier this month, Australia’s Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) rescued a male koala sitting atop the logged remnants of Vittoria State Forest in New South Wales. The koala, sitting out in broad daylight on top of a woodchip pile with trucks and machinery working close by, was reported by a concerned man working at the site. The man called his wife who contacted WIRES.

“A worker noticed a koala had been sitting stationary in broad daylight on top of wood piles for over an hour,” said WIRES general manager Leanne Taylor. “Koalas would have been moved out of their homes in preparation for planned logging activities, [however] it is common for koalas to roam back to their home range afterwards and become confused to find nothing there.”

The koala was found to have an injury on its eye, and was transferred to a local veterinarian before being relocated once again into a new habitat. Another three confused and displaced koalas were sighted in that same area that day — again in daylight, which is very unusual for the animal. They were transferred to new habitats as well.

According to the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF), there are less than 80,000 koalas left in the wild, possibly as few as 43,000. The underlying cause of the population drop – the clearing of the eucalyptus forests – has led to a drastic loss of natural habitat and in turn, spiked stress levels among koalas, making them more prone to disease. Attacks from dogs and road accidents have also become more commonplace as displaced koalas journey across developed landscapes in search of food. AKF estimates that around 4,000 koalas are killed each year by dogs and cars alone.

“Koalas’ continuous move into urban areas makes them highly vulnerable to road [accidents] and attacks by dogs,” Darryl Jones, deputy director of the Environmental Futures Centre at the Queensland-based Griffith University, told Inter Press Service. “In the rapidly developing region of southeast Queensland, the species has suffered a 60% decline in the past decade due to the combination of disease and dog attacks, but mostly [from] collisions with cars. When forced out of their natural habitat, koalas use all resources available to them including backyard trees, tree-lined road verges and median strips.”

Last year, the Australian Government listed the koala as a “vulnerable” species in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999. Now, developers must take koala populations into account prior to submitting building applications.

“If someone wants to make a development there is a tougher hurdle as a result of a species being endangered,” Environmental Minister Tony Burke told ABC Radio. “Koalas are an iconic Australian animal and they hold a special place in the community. People have made it very clear to me that they want to make sure the koala is protected for future generations. Koala populations are under serious threat from habitat loss and urban expansion, as well as vehicle strikes, dog attacks and disease.”