Will Wildlife Queensland need to search for a replacement for the koala in its logo? Will the koala become the next extinction in Queensland following the Bramble Cay melomys? While we don’t believe it is highly likely that koala extinction will occur Queensland wide, at least in the short to mid-term, disappearance of the koala in local areas, perhaps even regions of Queensland, has occurred and continues.
Recent studies have found that koala population densities in Brisbane’s south-eastern suburbs, Logan, Redlands and the Pine Rivers region, have fallen dramatically by up to about 80 percent in some areas between 1996 and 2014.
The Palaszczuk Government clearly shares our concern for the koala, delivering $12M in the recent Budget to boost conservation measures and improve population surveys over the next four years. But governments of all political persuasions have thrown money at this national icon over the years – what is different this time? True to his word, Environment Minister Miles is endeavouring to underpin the expenditure of these funds with the guidance of an expert panel.
In early July a workshop was convened by the Palaszczuk Government to plan initiatives aimed at improving the conservation of koalas in south-east Queensland. This action and more importantly, the work to follow, will be instrumental in determining the most appropriate way to achieve the existence of viable wild populations of the koala in this heavily urbanised and industrialised corner of the state.
The workshop agreed on the make-up of the panel to provide expert advice on an appropriate response to address the decline of koalas in the area. Associate Professor Rhodes from the University of Queensland will Chair the panel and be joined by Dr Alistair Melzer of the Central Queensland University Koala Research Centre and Mr Al Mucci of the Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation.
It is well established that habitat loss together with the impact of dogs and traffic are major contributing factors to the dire situation koala populations are facing in south-east Queensland. The koala, unlike the possum, is not a species that can co-inhabit with dense urbanisation. However, the issues koalas face are not confined to the south-east corner of our state.
Unfortunately their populations elsewhere are also under considerable pressure. In the mulga lands of western Queensland, where urbanisation and traffic are certainly not the problem, populations have decreased by about 80 percent since the early 1990s. Undoubtedly wild dog numbers have escalated in the area over time and this has had an impact, but not to that extent.
On St Bees Island near Mackay where, like Magnetic Island off Townsville, koalas were relocated to, the population had remained stable for years until a recent crash. The island is not developed but has been subject to less than average rainfall for over 10 years – a predicted component of climate change.
According to our knowledge, the only area in Queensland where the koala population has remained stable, if not increased, is the Nebo Ranges in the state’s centre. Why would this be so? It is also known that the koala is thriving and almost reaching pest proportions according to some sources, in certain areas of Victoria. And the serious and unfortunate issues in regards to the overpopulation of koalas on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, is well documented.
Based on the facts and evidence to hand it appears there may be more to the demise of the koala in Queensland than simply habitat loss, disease and urbanisation with all its trappings. Perhaps like the Bramble Cay melomys – the first species driven beyond the brink by significant sea-level rise and increased frequency and intensity of weather events – the koala will be a future victim of climate change.
Current statistics inform us that the current approach and application of existing policies is simply not working. Under the circumstances the engagement of koala researchers to rethink the situation in south-east Queensland and devise a new approach to underpin viable wild koala populations is a bold move. While the focus of this funding is centred on the south-east, Wildlife Queensland urges that steps be taken in other parts of the state, and not only with the preservation of the iconic koala but other species of wildlife, prior to crisis situations arising. We have enough battles on our hands with the northern hairy-nosed wombat, bridled nailtail wallaby and the bilby. When will our leaders learn that the need for a systematic survey of the fauna of the state is not only a high priority but essential?