Fragmented koala habitat and lack of food supply, farms, roads, land clearing, dog attacks, developers, forestry threaten koala survival, as their numbers plummet towards extinction.
The koala is a small bear-like, tree-dwelling, herbivorous marsupial which averages about 9kg (20lb) in weight. Its fur is thick and usually ash grey with a tinge of brown in places.
The koala is possibly one of the best known Australian animals, and is found in four states: Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The word ‘koala’ comes from an Australian Aboriginal word meaning ‘no drink’.
Koalas can’t see very well. They rely mostly on their hearing and smell. They mainly eat leaves from gum trees and only a few varieties. The others could be poisonous.
They are marsupials, which means that they carry their young in a pouch.
There are about 600 varieties of eucalypts. Koalas Australia wide eat only about 120 of these. Koalas in a specific area would prefer to eat only about 4-6 different types.
Declining numbers and threats
Over 2 million koalas were killed between 1908 and 1927. Occasionally koalas are taken by Goannas, Eagles, and Owls. Humans are koala’s worst enemies. Dingoes will kill the koala. Now there are only 2,000 to 8,000 koalas in the wild!
The population of Australian koalas has dropped by 90% in less than a decade. This is due to the destruction of the koala’s natural habitat by human settlement, logging, dogs and roads on the narrow crescent on the eastern coast of Australia.
Beginning in the 19th century, Koalas were hunted mercilessly by European settlers for their soft fur pelts and were entirely helpless in the face of guns and dogs. The major means used by professional hunters were poisoning and snaring, and by the late 19th century, 300,000 Koala pelts a year were being shipped to the London fur market .
Australia’s most “at risk” koala populations are now protected under national threatened species legislation, federal environment minister Tony Burke announced April 2012.
Mr Burke’s announcement follows almost a decade of lobbying by scientists, local landcare groups and wildlife carers to have the koala listed under federal threatened species legislation. The Australian government lists the species as “vulnerable,” and the U.S. government classifies them as “threatened.”
It means developers will have to account for koala listings when making building applications. However, it doesn’t actually prevent them from continuing, or actually accounting for them. Koala numbers in Victoria’s Grampians National Park, in the state’s west, and at Mount Macedon, northwest of Melbourne, were declining, according to Ms Tabart of the Australian Koala Foundation. However, the Federal listing will offer substantial protection otherwise but where logging operations are conducted under Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) the Federal listing will have no effect. The EPBC Act is exempt from RFAs.
The NSW Government is sitting on its hands while thousands of hectares of native bushland has been cleared near Moree and in other parts of the state, threatening the survival of local koala populations and destroying habitat for threatened wildlife, the state’s peak environment group said. Important koala habitat has been bulldozed and an investigation is underway, but the NSW Government has said it may not take any enforcement action until Christmas. There are no real concrete overall policies to protect native species. Economic activities have a higher status than native species.
Limited gene pool and disease
Mating with kin is not unusual in animals with declining populations, and researchers expected to find that the koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) had been doing just that. But scientists were surprised to learn how far back the inbreeding goes. The biggest danger associated with a limited gene pool in koalas today is their relative difficulty in combating disease.
Scientists also worry that the lack of a coping mechanism afforded by gene variation could make it especially difficult for the koala to adapt to climate change.
The lack of connected wildlife corridors, disturbances to habitats, fragmentation by farms and roads and land clearing are all part of the problem of some koalas “overgrazing”, and threatening their food supply.
Some of the actions the AWPC recommends to protect koalas from extinction are:
- developing and implementing the regional and Council koala Policy and Strategy
- planting koala food trees along road reserves and in parks and conservation areas
- activities in schools to increase awareness and understanding
- purchase of environmentally significant land large areas of koala habitat to be permanently protected investigation into a habitat linkage strategy to guide our future planning
- research on koala movement and population statistics
- surveys to know their numbers.
- Rescue and restoration services for sick and injured koalas
- Speed limits and signage to protect koalas on the roads
- community awareness programs
Coal Seam Gas mining pollutes, destroys koala habitat
by Anne Kennedy
What is happening in the NSW Pilliga (and Leard Forest) is disgraceful. The Pilliga is so isolated, no-one really knows -or didn’t, until we formed the Alliance to make a noise about it.
A new ecological study of the Pilliga Forest in north-west NSW has found it is a “Noah’s Ark” or refuge for many bird and mammal species that are declining across Australia. Coal seam gas exploration has already caused substantial damage to the forest and progression to full scale gas production could lead to local extinctions.
David Milledge, ecologist and lead author of the report says that “Our study also raises real concerns about the future of the important Pilliga population of the Koala as the results support previous findings of a severe decline in the area”. The report confirms that the Santos coal seam gas project area in the Pilliga has national conservation significance and is vital to the survival of federally threatened species like the Pilliga Mouse and South-eastern Long-eared Bat.
Environmental groups have organised a coal seam gas tour of the Leard and Pilliga forests following the approval of the Maules Creek coal mine by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission. This will turn a critically endangered ecosystem into a gaping hole in the ground, and destroy habitat for threatened species like the koala, National Parks Association spokeswoman Pat Schultz said.
Koalas are endangered, On the “threatened species at risk” list Once there was a large colony of healthy koalas in the Pilliga, but are becoming difficult to find – since the coal seam gas industry started clearing (and polluting) there. They occasionally find dead koalas, squashed by a mining truck, or drowned in polluted ‘holding ponds’ the coal seam gas toxic waste-water is stored in.
The majority of coastal koalas (remaining ones, whose habitat hasn’t been entirely destroyed by urbanisation) have chlamydia. The western inland koala colonies (Pilliga/ Leards forests) are disease-free. Saving these healthy koala colonies, who don’t have contagious diseases, and aren’t inbred, is absolutely vital for the long-term survival of the koala.
Santos (with NSW govt blessing) plans to turn the Pilliga into a giant gas field, Leard’s into an even bigger coal mine than it is already. It’s a disaster, free from environmental legislation that would cripple the industry!
The ecologist who said the mine has “no significant impact” to the 30 known threatened species or the 2 endangered ecological communities on site or known from the locality, is the local esteemed Professor David Goldney in Bathurst. (Cenwest working for Resource Strategies).
AppendixE- Fauna Assessment