Koalas in Queensland have recently been declared an endangered species under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
This new declaration cuts deep for lovers of the cuddly Aussie icon, who have watched Koalas go from not being listed at all to being listed as vulnerable and now endangered, all within the decade since 2012.
“...these populations cannot be considered to have long-term viability because of their inbred status.”
The new endangered declaration is especially relevant to our Moreton Bay Region, where humans are developing new housing estates fast, displacing koala populations as they go. According to the latest census figures, over 107,000 people moved to Queensland last year, with many settling in the southeast corner.
Land clearing for housing development is the biggest threat to Koalas, followed by vehicle strikes, dog attacks, and sickness.
Moreton Bay Koala Rescue (MBKR) reports a recent upwards trend in Koalas being hit by vehicles and an increase in sick koalas being rescued. MBKR says that around 80% of all car hits are fatal, and approximately 75% of dog attack victims succumb to their injuries.
Moreton Bay is part of an area known as the Koala Coast, which has suffered a jaw-dropping 80% decline in koala numbers between 1996 and 2014, according to the Department of Environment and Heritage. The Koala Coast encompasses much of South East Queensland, including Moreton Bay, Noosa, Ipswich, Brisbane, and Gold Coast.
Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT are alone in having their koala populations declared endangered. Victoria and South Australia have large and stable Koala populations termed vulnerable rather than endangered.
Victoria can boast an estimated koala population of around double what Queensland can muster.
Estimates from the Australia Koala Foundation (AKF) in 2021 put New South Wales at the bottom of the koala population table (estimated 6,040 to 9,605 individual koalas), with Queensland next (estimated 6,455 to 12,085).
According to AKF estimates, Victoria is home to between 11,950 and 23,080 individual koalas. South Australia is estimated to have a population of between 7,615 to 13,150.
While Victoria and South Australia are home to a healthy number of the marsupial, there are problems with a lack of genetic diversity. Much of the current population has descended from a few individuals who were reintroduced to the mainland from French Island in the early 20th century after the marsupials nearly became extinct in Victoria and South Australia.
According to the Australian Koala Foundation, "these populations cannot be considered to have long-term viability because of their inbred status."
This near-extinction event beginning in the late 1800s, was caused by the fur trade. Before that time, Australia was home to an estimated ten million koalas. Between 1888 and 1927, over eight million koalas were slaughtered for their soft fur.
Moreton Bay Regional Council (MBRC) has beefed up environmental protections in 2022. They have implemented a habitat protection and restoration scheme designed to improve the amount and quality of koala habitat across the region. A part of this scheme is a land buyback program, funded to the tune of $2.9m per year. Council also has three dedicated koala nature refuges covering 282 hectares.
In addition, Council offsets any tree loss incurred during the development of new estates, planting three koala trees for every tree removed.
Recently, the MBRC Mayor Peter Flannery announced an intention for the Council to limit the urban footprint to no more than 25 per cent of the region's total land area.
Despite these efforts, koala lovers have good reason to be apprehensive about the future of the now-endangered marsupial.