Those of us that live in South East Queensland are fortunate to share the local environment with one of the largest populations of koalas in Australia. In fact an area referred to as the “Koala Coast” is located just 20 kilometres south-east of Brisbane. This includes an area of 375 square kilometres and covers portions of Redland City, Logan City and the south-eastern portion of Brisbane City.
However the iconic koala was declared vulnerable in April 2012, the Australian Government under the Federal EPBC Act in New South Wales, the Australian Capitol Territory (ACT) and Queensland. Currently, the Australia Koala Foundation regards the species as critically endangered in the South-East Queensland bioregion.
The koala endures as one of Australia’s most recognised cultural symbols by tourists. According to Sunshine Coast journalist, Steve Cooper, research “highlights that 22% of international tourists nominate wildlife as their reason for visiting. As high as 72% of these visitors nominate they most want to see the koala” . It is crucial for the future of the koala, that Australia and the rest of the world realise the precarious position that the species is in due to the impact of urbanisation on their natural habitat, as well as the threats of predators and disease.
Finding of a 2017 study prepared for the Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation (DSITI), suggest that over the last 50 years habitats have decreased due to land clearing and remaining habitats are severely fragmented. This significantly impacts koalas as these animals “come to the ground to move from one food or shelter tree to the next or in search of a mate…”
Koalas are particularly vulnerable when they are on the ground to attack by domestic or wild dogs or being hit by a vehicle if crossing roads. Another threat to the koala, is the disease Chlamydia psittaci particularly for animals living in a fragmented landscape. Environmental risk factors include heat, drought and fires.
The rates of rapid decline for koala populations are staggering. The estimated rate of decline nationally is 30% in the last three generations (DEE 2012, McAlpine et al. 2012 in DSITI 2017, 39).
An effective response to injury of native animals by motor vehicles made by the Brisbane City Council (BCC) was the development of the Compton Road project which involved the upgrade of 1.3 kilometres of Compton Road in 2003. Compton Road operates as a major east-west arterial road in the southern suburbs of Brisbane traverses bush land areas of Kuraby Bushlands and Karawatha Forest.
A key innovation to the project was the replication of natural habitats for animals with a mounded overpass planted with locally sourced vegetation. Fauna underpasses were included in the design to facilitate safe passage for animals under the roads. Subsequent to the success of this project, Griffith University Professor Darryl Jones, whose expertise is in urban ecology and wildlife management, was commissioned to research the serious decline in koala numbers in South-East Queensland due to road kill, dog attacks and disease. Professor Jones claims that retrofitting of culverts and ledges is a cost effective approach to koala protection at around $5,000 which is significantly cheaper than an overpass structure. According to Professor Jones, there are now seventy retrofitted drainage culvert structures around South-East Queensland.
Koalas deserve the support of citizens with whom they share their habitat and it is the responsibility of people to be aware of basic strategies for koala protection. A koala ambulance service is available in the circumstances of finding a sick, injured, orphaned or dead koala. Key services to contact are the Daisy Hill Koala Ambulance service which operates daily; the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) as well as a range of volunteer wildlife groups which can be contacted through local councils.
Dog owners need to restrain their dog and keep it a safe distance from a koala. If a koala is on the ground it is important to not approach the koala from behind. To rescue a koala on the ground, place a container with ventilation (such as a washing basket) over the koala, and then place a heavy item on top of the container to prevent the koala dragging it. In case of finding a koala in distress or trapped in a fence, provide the koala with a quiet, shaded and safe environment until rescue services arrive.