Koala’s future in people’s hands

As the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) pushes for Australia’s first Koala Protection Act, the foundation’s chief ecologist Dr Douglas Kerlin will speak publically to encourage residents to help.

If a Federal Act eventuates it may be too late for koalas in some Gold Coast and Tweed Coast areas, but other local populations could be rescued. For instance, new laws and initiatives could help the 200 or so koalas that live in the Currumbin/Elanora area.

Pottsville koalas, however, were hit hard by a fire last Christmas that wiped out an estimated 40 per cent of the population. On top of the fire their breeding habitat around Black Rock sports grounds is under pressure from human disturbance. Pottsville is growing so the koalas are in the wrong place at the wrong time, making them very vulnerable.

AKF Chief Executive Officer Director Deborah Tabart said in a Tweet in February that
“Govt. listing Koalas as “vulnerable” in 2012 changed nothing. The laws for protecting our environment are powerless. #KoalaProtectionAct.”

“Koalas are Aussie ambassadors but what will it take for the government to realise they are in trouble”, she continued.

“AKF has tried to give advice to govt on this for years, to no avail. We need a #KoalaProtectionAct”.

According to Ms Tabart, the Federal Koala Protection Act would be a first and this month is the month they are going to start to campaign for it. She said Tony Abbott’s and Campbell Newman’s election had watered down the protection offered by the koala’s 2012 ‘vulnerable’ listing to make development simpler.

She advised that Doug Kerlin’s talk at Gecko this month would be about how Gecko and other Gold Coasters can help make the legislation happen.

“I’m not going to be content until there’s federal legislation that can’t be watered down,” she said.

Deborah Tabart is the architect of the Koala Habitat Atlas, a multimillion dollar peer reviewed project to identify and rank koala habitat. By clicking on the map residents can check their own properties for koala potential.

“I don’t believe that our politicians are interested in good science,” said the koala campaigner of over two decades.

The online Koala Habitat Atlas shows an Australia-wide map of populations and suitable habitats in the Gold Coast and Tweed.

Tweed Heads Environment Group Chairman Richard Murray said the Pottsville koalas were an example of a population fragmented by highways.

“There’s a decline of five to 10 per cent per year [normally], and not enough koalas cross the road safely to make the population viable,” he said.

“The four major causes [of koala death] are car strikes, dog attacks, habitat destruction and chlamydia.”

Mr Murray thinks it may be too late for the Pottsville koalas, making it crucial to ensure the still-viable Elanora-Currumbin koala population doesn’t go down (or try to cross) the same road.

Currumbin Wildlife Hospital senior vet Michael Pyne said the number of koalas brought into the hospital, which treats injured wildlife, has increased dramatically from previous years.

Last year 250 koalas entered the hospital due mainly, he said, to chlamydia and koala retrovirus.

“These diseases are passed genetically, and suppress the immune system leading to skin ulcers, severe gingivitis, anaemia and bone marrow suppression.”

Stress from habitat destruction is a disease contributing factor.

He hopes clinical trials of a chlamydia vaccine will produce one that could be used in the future.

Dr Pyne doesn’t think the rise in his hospital’s koala admissions is all due to the rise in injuries, as there is a growing number of locals who are prepared to assist distressed animals.

“People are starting to recognise what a sick koala looks like and wanting to help more,” he said.

The increasing public interest may be a positive factor to come up with viable solutions because experts say the current solutions put forward by councils aren’t doing anything to save koalas.

Richard Murray said, “The general plan is too leave them wild until they die out. They should be providing a sanctuary.”

“The koala’s future is in our hands. It’s only a matter of time,” he said.

Australian Koala Foundation Dr Doug Kerlin will be discussing the case for national koala protection legislation at a speaking event hosted by Gecko on Wednesday 25 March.

If you see a sick or injured koala, you can contact Wildcare, the Currumbin Animal Hospital or the Gold Coast City Council. Dr Pyne advises people to stay with the koala if possible to make sure it doesn’t move before the rescue team arrives.











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