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Protecting koalas from extinction

Media Release
Janet Rice 28 Nov 2018

What do you think of when you think of Australia? The vast stretches of our outback, our magnificent beaches, our incredible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and their culture? Beautiful Sydney Harbour with its iconic Opera House and bridge? Cosmopolitan Melbourne with its trams and laneways? Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, the Twelve Apostles, the rainforests of the Tarkine and Daintree?

Australia conjures up many iconic images and ideas, but one I haven't yet mentioned is our wildlife. We have unique wildlife. Kangaroos—iconic; emus—iconic; platypus, wedgetail eagles, rainbow lorikeets, galahs, magpies, blue tongue lizards, frill neck lizards, dingos, echidnas, wombats, Tasmanian devils—all iconic. Koalas—absolutely iconic. So it's startling to know that the iconic koalas, along with 447 other Australian animals, are threatened with extinction. This is not only sad; it's also preventable. You may ask why we are leading the world in species extinction. The answer is clear. It's the actions of this government and state governments around the country, on top of the actions of past governments, that have got us to this crisis point. Our governments are standing by and allowing native forests to be logged, overwhelmingly for wood chips, letting land be cleared for agriculture, property development and highway upgrades, allowing the clearing of forests for coal seam gas development and doing nothing about climate change except changing leaders.

Koalas are unable to survive as their homes are lost. Once their homes are lost, koalas suffer stress, disease, dog attacks and vehicle strikes. Koalas are being wiped out during the breeding season. They are found in supermarkets, on railway lines, up electricity poles, looking for homes.

A recent study of US tourism found that the two things that tourists to our great country wanted were to visit the Great Barrier Reef and to see koalas in the wild. But in the near future the only place they'll see koalas is going to be in zoos. Our koalas are hurtling towards extinction. They are in major decline across almost all of New South Wales, and no population estimates have been undertaken since 2006. Not surprisingly, this means we've got big inconsistencies between population counts. The New South Wales state government count says we have 36,000 individuals, while the federal government's estimate for New South Wales is 21,000. Both are woefully and worryingly low, given historic populations, but they are almost certainly both underestimates, given the stresses that koalas have been under since 2006.

In South-East Queensland, the heartland of koalas in the state, there's an almost 80 per cent loss of habitat for development. The government refuses to even monitor koala numbers. The major parties, regardless of who's in government, have refused to legislate for habitat protection. They have presided over a system where compliance with our environment laws is inadequate, where our environment department has had its funding and staff slashed, where the differences in populations of koalas across regions and states are ignored, masking the need for urgent action.

Then there's climate change. The head-in-the-sand approach of the current government hangs koalas out to dry. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists koalas as one of the ten species most vulnerable to climate change. Almost all of New South Wales and Queensland is suffering severe drought. Drought doesn't just affect our farmers and regional communities; it also affects our wildlife. Drought means that the eucalypts that koalas rely on can't provide them with the water and nutrients they need to survive.

Female koalas can't cope with pregnancy or nourishing their joeys. Add these factors to habitat destruction and you can understand why populations are in serious decline. Our koalas must be protected from land clearing and deforestation, logging and climate change. So we need environment laws and an environment department that actually work. It's astounding that a country as wealthy as ours is robbing future generations of their chance to know and love our precious wildlife, like the iconic koala. When will the Labor, Liberal and National parties sit up and take notice? We need action now—not in five years; not in 10 years. We need action that has to start now.

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