The eucalyptus forests and woodlands of Australia’s east coast are disappearing quickly, with a significant loss occurring throughout our local area. Australia Zoo has identified the koala, an icon of this dwindling habitat, as an important conservation species. We believe the wild population of koalas is critically threatened and in need of our protection.
Although not listed as endangered by any Australian state, the koala population has been devastated over the last hundred years and is currently under great threat due to urbanisation and massive, uncontrolled habitat destruction. It has been estimated that upwards of 80 percent of original koala habitat in Australia has been cleared since European settlement.
Apart from the direct impact of bushfires, habitat clearing increases pressure on remaining populations and disrupts the demographic structure as displaced animals try to establish new home ranges. This often leads to the demise of all populations. Continued clearing eventually leads to koala populations being isolated in small, fragmented parcels of land, totally cut off from other populations and extremely vulnerable to dog attacks and motor vehicle accidents.
Bushfires are another major threat. Crown fires are devastating to koalas, as they become trapped at the top of trees and have the exposed skin areas on their hands, feet and face burnt, they also often succumb to smoke inhalation. Those that do survive often starve to death as their food supply may take several weeks to re-grow. Local extinctions occur because these devastated areas cannot get replenished.
In addition to bushfires, habitat clearing, dog attacks and road accidents, at least 8 million koalas were killed to supply the fur trade in America and Europe between 1888 and 1927. In contrast to these astounding numbers, the current koala population of approximately 85,000 animals, represents only 1 percent of those shot for the fur trade. This population was calculated prior to the dreadful bushfires of December 2019 / January 2020 where it has been estimated that 30% of the NSW population and up to 50% of the Kangaroo Island population has perished. The long-term effect of this massive loss to these koala colonies, and the species as a whole, is currently unknown.
To ensure the survival of koalas in the wild, we have purchased and will continue to purchase the largest tracts of land possible. We strongly recommend anyone with acreage or grazing properties to PLEASE protect eucalypt woodlands or plant eucalypts before it’s too late. Our own field studies show that koalas can easily exist on grazing land with the presence of a few trees; these remaining trees do not affect the grazing quality of the land. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the remaining koala population occurs on private land that is not protected.
Australia Zoo staff volunteer wherever possible on research projects involving the local koala populations.
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