Why Are Koalas Falling Out of Trees and Dying?
Maimed and dead koalas: workers in Australia’s timber plantations say that it is a daily occurrence for them to find the bodies of the country’s iconic mammal on the floor of cleared forests in Victoria. Sometimes, as many as “a couple an hour” have been found. ”The casualty rate is horrendous,” says journalist Greg Hoy.
Conservationists have long claimed that the Australian government has not done enough to protect the country’s iconic animal, the koala. A recent Australian Broadcast Corporation provides yet more evidence of why the koala must be listed as endangered. It is now listed as “vulnerable,” but only in certain places (New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT) and not, certainly, in Victoria.
Koalas have sought refuge in the blue gum timber plantations due to the destruction of their native forest habitat in south Australia. As the trees in the plantations are logged, the koalas are falling from them and being severely injured, with volunteers finding them with broken backs, impact wounds and severed limbs. Dead mothers with joeys who are still alive have also been discovered. One joey was found with two healed broken arms, suggesting that his or her mother had been dropped from a tree in a previous incident.
The American-owned Australian Blue Gum Plantations, which estimates that there could be about 8,000 koalas within range of the plantation, denies that there have been any instances of koala deaths.
“I knew things were bad, but didn’t know they were quite that grim….
“No one is taking full responsibility for the koala. It’s a native icon but everyone is saying it’s someone else’s job. The government has allowed industry to completely self-regulate. We need a new koala protection act that says you simply can’t touch a tree where a koala lives.”
While the local Victoria government has failed, says Tabart, to make sure that loggers reduce risks to koalas, the federal Australian government is also responsible as it has still not listed the koala as an endangered species in Victoria. Rather, the government is still too inclined to see koalas as “pests,” Greens senator Lee Rhiannon points out.
Andrew Pritchard, the program manager of terrestrial biodiversity at Victoria’s Department of Environment and Primary Industries, claims that his agency is working with “wildlife carers and industry to come together to formulate new management procedures. On the basis of what has happened to the koalas recently, these procedures need to be created immediately, put into action and enforced.
There were once millions of koalas in Australia, but only about 100,000 — or even as few as 43,000 — exist now. Koalas were nearly hunted into extinction in the early twentieth century for their thick fur. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature considers the koala one of the ten most vulnerable species in the world due to climate change as they eat only the leaves of the eucalyptus, which has been cleared in many places for urban development. Even more, the eucalyptus’ nutritional value has declined as a result of increases of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The Australian government must acknowledge that, with destruction to the koalas’ habitat continuing apace due to urbanization and industry, they have had no choice but to seek other places to live. It is imperative to take precautionary measures to protect what everyone agrees is a symbol of Australia (about 75 percent of visitors to Australia say they wish to see koalas) and list them as vulnerable, recognizing that their survival is by no means assured.
Photo from Thinkstock