Conserving Koala Country

Conserving Koala Country

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Taking a breather

Today, koalas are in the media and I've been forced to take a breather from writing lectures for interviews with radio, newspaper and TV. So what is all the fuss about? After more than a year since the koala population crash and government welfare interventions of late 2013 and February 2014, the media has decided that it is a story worth reporting. It's not often that the media is that slow is it?

My day started at 6am when the bellowing of koala 'Dave' woke me. For those of you who don't know, Dave is my ringtone on my mobile. It is not pleasant to be woken by a koala bellowing in your ear! The caller was 3AW radio wanting to talk about the 'secret cull of koalas at Cape Otway'. Apparently 'The Australian' newspaper had written an article titled that and discussing the government's program to euthanase starving koalas in 2013/14. I suppose government conspiracies and cover-ups get people's attention because I have since spent my day in interviews and taking phone calls to set up interviews.

My only hope is that this media interest will result in a positive outcome for long-term management of koalas and their habitats at Cape Otway. The problem has not gone away and our November and February counts suggest that koala numbers are beginning to increase again in areas where manna gum survived the 2013 events. Without management, there will be another population crash. I definitely do not want to witness something like that again.

Here is the opening of The Australian article that triggered chaos today:

"ALMOST 700 koalas have been secretly killed by lethal injection near Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and thousands more are in danger of starvation due to an ongoing crisis caused by overpopulation in one of the nation’s key habitats. The Australian can ­reveal that wildlife officials conducted three euthanasia operations in 2013 and 2014 to kill 686 koalas, in what was a covert campaign to avoid any backlash from green groups and the community."

Despite the title and opening sentences, they at least got some of the story right:

"Deakin University koala expert Desley Whisson was part of the team that dealt with the problem a year ago and warned that the problem would continue. Dr Whisson said the density of koalas on the cape was potentially the greatest in Australia and that some of the ­animals were in such poor health that euthanasia was the only ­option.

“It was a blessing when the vets came,’’ she said. As well as invading the Bimbi Park campground, the koalas stripped stands of manna gums, virtually wiping out the trees and making it difficult for the 8000-strong group to find food. Only the fittest specimens were able to survive, leaving the oldest and, in some cases, smallest koalas to starve. Dr Whisson said the reduction in numbers had nothing to do with thinning out the population and was all about dealing humanely with sick koalas."

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