LOCAL, state and national perspectives on topical koala conservation issues – including politics, current research, rescue efforts, vet protocols and on-ground habitat preservation and restoration endeavours – were aired in a forum facilitated by Noosa & District Landcare Group last month.

From Left: Julie O’Connor and Dave Burrows (Sunshine Coast Council), Jennifer Adams (Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital), Vanessa Moscato (Noosa & District Landcare Project Manager) with Michelle Daily (Tandur private landholder).
From Left: Julie O’Connor and Dave Burrows (Sunshine Coast Council), Jennifer Adams (Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital), Vanessa Moscato (Noosa & District Landcare Project Manager) with Michelle Daily (Tandur private landholder).

The collective wisdom and experience of six koala conservation groups, and their individual insights into what is best for the koala, was shared with a large gathering of koala lovers who filled Landcare’s Futures Centre to capacity.

Phillip Moran (Noosa & District Landcare) spoke of how Landcare collaborated with nine private landholders and the Sunshine Coast Council in the recent planting of 1,000 eucalypts from Tandur to Tinbeerwah. While this project has achieved its objective of restoring cleared or degraded land adjacent to good quality koala habitat, he described it as “just a drop in the ocean”.

Brent Smith, Senior Ranger from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, discussed the Department’s five year Koala Habitat Survey Program and explained why he was unable to share the local data collected so far.

The audience was shocked by a presentation by Jennifer Adams (Senior Vet Nurse at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital) and her revelation that 3,660 koalas have been admitted to the AZWH since 2008 alone.

Despite the extensive experience and specialist care delivered around-the-clock by orthopaedic surgeons, vets, vet nurses and volunteers, such is the severity of injury and illness affecting koalas arriving in care that two-thirds of those admitted to the Wildlife Hospital have to be humanely euthanized or die while in care. Only one third of koala admissions are able to be released back to the wild.

Most of the koalas admitted to the Hospital are 3-5 years old, which is when the adolescent males and females disperse and move away from their mothers. Jennifer also made the interesting and somewhat reassuring observation that re-admissions were not a common occurrence.

She clarified to some of the community members who were interested in koala relocation that the Wildlife Hospital is under a legislative obligation to release rehabilitated koalas within five kilometres of where they were rescued.

Deborah Tabart OAM, Australian Koala Foundation, left, donates a Koala Habitat Map to Vanessa Moscato, Noosa & District Landcare Project Manager.
Deborah Tabart OAM, Australian Koala Foundation, left, donates a Koala Habitat Map to Vanessa Moscato, Noosa & District Landcare Project Manager.

Deborah Tabart OAM, from the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF), shared her dream of the establishment of a Koala Protection Act, a simple piece of legislation, modelled on the American Bald Eagle Act.

Deborah hopes to see the legislation tabled in the new Federal Parliament in early 2014 in concert with a dedicated lobbying effort by the AKF’s Koala Army. Deborah urged attendees to assist their campaign by “pecking our politicians into submission”.

Conservation of this species is contingent upon the protection of all remnants of good quality koala habitat. Deborah therefore urged us to get to know our koala food trees, tag them and join her Koala Army.

“There isn’t enough time to plant new trees,” says Deborah.

“We just can’t afford to cut down the ones we already have. It will take 2,000 saplings to get one tree the size of a telegraph pole, and take 30-50 years, which will be too late for koalas on the Sunshine Coast.

“Road signage doesn’t work, unless it is policed. Local dog laws don’t work unless they are policed.”

The Australian Koala Foundation has printed a very large Koala Habitat Map of the Noosa area which is now housed at the Futures Centre in Pomona for the community to view.

Julie O’Connor from the Sunshine Coast Council has recently been tasked with developing a new operational Koala Conservation Plan and spoke about the reserves acquired by Council through the Environment Levy, their gazettal as Koala Nature Refuges by the State Government, and Council’s investment in the Community Partnership Program.

On a more positive note, Dave Burrows, of Council’s Land for Wildlife program, highlighted how voluntary conservation and environmental restoration by private landholders over the past 50 years has created a valuable wildlife corridor connecting Woondum and Pinbarren National Parks.

Meghan Halverson, representing Queensland Koala Crusaders Inc (QKC), delivered an emotive take-home message – “there is a real urgency for action and we need to work collaboratively to achieve what’s best for the koala”.

She hopes that when QKC re-submits the 2012 Sunshine Coast Koala Summit Report recommendations to the new Noosa Council, in early 2014, their response will not mirror that of the dismissive Sunshine Coast Council.

This event was the fourth and last in a series of workshops run by Noosa & District Landcare in 2013 as part of the Queensland Government-funded Noosa Hinterland Koala Habitat Conservation and Awareness Project.

Whilst not everyone agrees on what’s best for the koala, it is clear that what we need is an engaged community that supports local action and a rapid response from all levels of government.

12/12/2013