October 5, 2013

So long, koalas

Have you ever known anyone not respond positively to a koala? Smiling or laughing or aahing, reaching for the camera? All visitors want to see koalas, without exception. Along with roos, koalas are the essence of Australia to the rest of the world.

September was Save the Koala month. You may not have known; I didn't. I didn't know until I read about the Queensland government sacking its only two specialist koala ecologists. For the first time since 1971, according to the Courier Mail, there isn't a dedicated koala ecologist in the Department of the Environment (and Heritage Protection). Great timing, boys.

Minister Andrew Powell assures us the ecologists' work will go on. And over the next four years $22.5 million will be spent on 'Koala habitat acquisition" and $800,000 on 'koala rescue and rehabilitation grants', which is not much. What precisely does 'habitat acquisition' mean? That koala habitat will be protected from the developers in perpetuity? Trees won't be cleared for yet more houses in the Gold Coast hinterland? Don't, absolutely don't, mention translocation to me (see 'Koalas declared extinct in Australia", August 2012).

This week also saw the release of research by the University of Sydney that indicates koalas will be severely impacted by heatwaves following further climate change. The study tracked 40 koalas over three years in northwest New South Wales and found that they used certain eucalypt species for feeding at night and then moved to a more shade-giving variety during the heat of the day. The composition of eucalypt woodland has been found to change with increasing temperatures: a quarter of the koalas tracked in this study perished during a heatwave in 2009. The suggestion by the researchers is that the supply of suitable trees will need to be managed in order to ensure the survival of koalas. This as well as preventing the loss of habitat area and protecting koalas from the attendant risks of development such as dogs and traffic.

Save the Koala Month is an annual fundraising and awareness campaign by the Australian Koala Foundation. You can help them plant trees: go to https://www.savethekoala.com/plant-a-tree/plant-form. I don't think we can rely on the Queensland government, do you?

* Climate-mediated habitat selection in an arboreal folivore by Mathew S Crowther et al. To read the abstract, go to http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0587.2013.00413.x/abstract

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