Conserving Koala Country

Conserving Koala Country

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Feeling uneasy....

Two weeks ago, the government started translocating koalas from Cape Otway to a location somewhere near Lorne. I have observed this with mixed and somewhat uneasy feelings. Translocation is the only way to rapidly reduce the Cape Otway koala population and give some koalas and trees a chance, but is it too late? And what is the cost to the translocated koalas and habitat at the release site?

Unfortunately, we will never really know the answer to those last two questions. While it is correct that the government conducted a trial translocation of 37 koalas, at the time of making the decision to translocate hundreds more, only about half of those 37 koalas had been found and their health reassessed. And, it was only four weeks after they'd been moved. Research suggests that the effects of chronic stress associated with translocation may not be seen for at least three months. Furthermore, no females with back young were included in the trial group yet many of the koalas being translocated now have large back young. I suspect that those back young will be abandoned by their stressed mothers. So are all these koalas just being moved to suffer a slow death out of sight? With no plans to monitor even a small sample of these animals, we will never know.

The risks to the habitat in the release area also may be high. Although all female koalas will be given hormone implants to stop their future breeding, it is likely that most are already pregnant. Peak breeding activity this year occurred in late October and with around 90% of females producing young each year, if the koalas survive the translocation, they will be producing fertile young. Will this result in a koala problem at the release site?

I was shocked and more than a little disappointed to learn that the government has no intention to monitor the success/failure of this translocation program beyond checking on the trial animals once every three months. Here they have a prime opportunity to learn whether this approach is effective in terms of koala welfare and risks to the release site. If they believe that this is the last time that translocation will be needed, they are being very short-sighted. So why not learn from this program?

And, what of the manna gum habitat at Cape Otway? Even the removal of 400 koalas and sterilisation of others won't be enough to save habitat in the long-term. More translocation and significantly more effort to catch and sterilise female koalas will be needed, and even then, it is probably too late for many trees.

Will this joey and ones like it survive translocation? Without monitoring, we will never know.

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