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20 August, 2021

Bearly there: Koala numbers under pressure

A GREATLY treasured and quintessentially Australian native animal. Much loved by tourists and locals the koala is battling dwindling numbers and is on the verge of being declared endangered.

By Peter McCullagh

Lulu the koala in Cairns at the Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome PHOTO: Peter McCullagh

A greatly treasured and quintessentially Australian native animal. Much loved by tourists and locals the koala is battling dwindling numbers and is on the verge of being declared endangered.

How did we get to this position, when the koala is so loved and admired?

Chair of the Australian Koala Foundation, Deborah Tabart OAM believes it is a combination of our urban development encroaching upon the koala’s natural habitat as well as an increase in natural predators in the koala’s natural habitat.

“If we cannot do what’s necessary to protect this iconic animal that brings thousands of tourists to Australia then we are failing.

“The koala is worth over $3 billion per year in tourism revenue, with over 30,000 jobs associated, we need to protect these jobs and this tourism icon.”

In 1936 the koala was protected nationally after almost four decades of culling for their skins, or pelts, however numbers have never fully recovered and continued to decline nationally.

East of the Great Divide, growing urban sprawl is impacting greatly upon our koala colonies, while to the west of the divide the clearing of koala habitat for the growing mining industry has led to a sharp decline in numbers. Either way, we need to protect the koala environment to lift our population numbers.

The Federal Government is now seriously considering upgrading the status of the koala from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ in Queensland, New South Wales, and the ACT.

But more needs to be done to save this iconic Australian marsupial.

“We need to incentivise private landholders to protect the biodiversity of our area and protect the natural habitat of the koala,” said Ms Tabart.

In Cairns the CaPTA Group have been working on a captive breeding program designed to bolster koala numbers and strengthen their gene pool.

Kara Stuart, CaPTA’s Assistant Team Leader – Wildlife has been working with the program for the past few years.

Originally from England, Ms Stuart came to Australia to work with koalas on Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

“People cannot resist the koala, they’re cute, cuddly and fluffy and they are one of our most popular attractions.”

Breeding programs have been successful in the past. Kangaroo Island with a strong natural habitat for the koala experienced success in boosting koala numbers in the wild.

In July last year, the Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome welcomed Lulu to their colony. Lulu is a Northern Australian koala, bred in captivity and now enjoying a life of leisure, free from predators, but sometimes at the mercy of the photo and cuddle hungry tourist.

Lulu is the third joey born in the past 18 months within the breeding program.

Life in the wild is completely different for koalas. Living high in the trees, they are still at risk from wedgetail eagles and other birds of prey, along with feral cats. The Koalas have also lost much of their natural habitat to urban development, leading to a serious dwindling in numbers nationwide.

“For a little creature that spends much of its day high in the trees, they are at risk from many predators,” Ms Stuart said.

With the declining koala population in Australia impacting greatly upon our reputation as custodians of our natural environment, much more must be done to forever protect this quintessential Australian icon.

September is Save the Koala Month, a time to celebrate this unique Australian. People wanting to find out more about Save the Koala Month can visit


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