GREEN

This Little Koala Made It, But At Least 179 Just Like Her Died

Land clearing is out of control.

19/05/2017 1:51 PM AEST | Updated 19/05/2017 1:53 PM AEST
© Sue Gedda / WWF-Aus

The koala in the image at the top of this page made it back into the bush -- for now. That's the good news.

The bad news is that hundreds and possibly even thousands like her did not.

Koalas are in trouble. Big trouble. According to the Australian Koala Foundation, their numbers Australia-wide are now well below 100,000 and could be as low as 43,000.

By any measure, they're just clinging on.

WWF Australia
This furry little guy was returned to the bush, and the truck driver even reversed the whole way so the koala wouldn't be squashed if he fell. Sometimes we love people.

Koalas can only live in eucalypt forests, which means habitat destruction is their biggest threat.

"Bulldoze their trees and you kiss the koalas goodbye," said WWF Australia scientist and conservationist Dr Martin Taylor.

"They're forced to look for new homes and are then killed by cars or dogs. The only solution is state government action to rein in excessive tree clearing."

© Doug Gimesy / WWF Australia
She just wants the state governments to leaf the forests alone.

Sadly for the koalas, recent state government action in Queensland has gone exactly the other way.

Dr Taylor authored a WWF Australia report in 2015 which depicted the rapidly accelerating rate of bushland destruction in Queensland, where a large proportion of Australia's koalas live.

Former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman had pledged to "retain the current level of statutory vegetation protection" before he was elected in 2012. Yet he amended the Vegetation Management Act in a way that made it much harder to protect koala habitat.

One Newman government minister even boasted that he was "taking the axe to to Queensland's land clearing laws".

He might have well have taken the axe directly to koalas. Dr Taylor estimates that tree clearing between 2013 and 2015 likely killed 179 koalas in south east Queensland in just two years, further pushing them towards extinctions in local forest pockets.

He bases that estimate on the South East Queensland Koala Population Modelling Study and the amount of prime koala habitat lost to clearing in two years -- which equates to about 4,400 football fields.

WWF Australia
An overview of the state of the koala populations in New South Wales and Queensland.

While that figure of 179 koalas is only an estimate, it's indicative of the broader trend depicted in the map above, and explored at much greater length in the WWF Australia report entitled: The Current Status of The Koala In Queensland & New South Wales.

Indeed, experts reckon that koala numbers in Queensland have declined by 53 percent over just three koala generations -- which means only about 25 years.

One of the cruellest ways koalas die when forests are felled is on the roads. The RSPCA Qld said that 323 koalas came into one wildlife hospital in the 12 months to April this year. Usually they don't recover from the sort of fractures pictured below.

Endeavour Veterinary Ecology
Ouch.

If you're interested in helping save koalas, you can get on board with WWF Australia here. Another way to tackle koala habitat protection is to get involved in the campaign to renegotiate regional forest agreements, which we wrote about here.

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