Issue Guide: Saving the Koala
By: Lori Anderson, Meadow Leys, 
Veronica Badzey, and Erika Palsson 
Students in H90 "The Science of Biodiversity and ConservationCampuswide Honors ProgramUniversity of California, Irvine.  Instructor: Dr. Peter J. Bryant (pjbryant@uci.edu), Interdisciplinary Minor in Global Sustainability
Koalas: Unique and Precious Animals

KOALA FACTS (information accumulated from The Koala Page and The Koala Facts )

The name "Koala" is derived from the Aboriginal dialect of eastern New South Wales. Koalas were very important to the Aborigines and actually are part of several common myths. There is a common belief that they can even cause droughts. Today they are important in Australia for tourism reasons and are often called the "Animal Ambassadors" of Australia. They are now popular animals all over the world and reside in zoos in many countries. However, many of their admirers don't really know much about them or how they live. They are often called "bears" because of their stubby little tails and their stocky builds, but they are actually unrelated to bears; they are marsupials. Australia is well known for its many marsupial species, probably a result of its isolation in its evolutionary history. Marsupials completely dominated Australia's fauna until several placental mammals were brought by the Europeans that settled there. Koalas, as with all marsupials, have a pouch in which their young develop. They usually only produce a single young each time they give birth. Koalas are the sole member of the family Phascolarctidae. They are an average of 17.4 lbs for females and 14.3 lbs for males. They have thick gray fur, fluffy ears with white hair, and a big black nose. The average lifespan of a koala varies, but is about 13-18 years.

Koalas are solitary animals and reside primarily in trees where they sleep and eat. They are very picky eaters and prefer several different eucalyptus species almost exclusively, though they occasionally eat other varieties of leaves. Because they are such solitary and relatively inactive animals, any form of stress on their environment affects them greatly. Tourism and Urbanization are some of these factors.

THE THREAT

The koalas today are under the threat of becoming endangered in Australia if something is not done to stop the rapid decline they are experiencing. They are listed as vulnerable, but not as an endangered species in Australia's Endangered Species Act. They therefore do not receive all the protection that they need and the National government is slow in taking steps to protect them. Koalas are big business in Australia and bring in a lot of capital every year in the country. Koala's are very sensitive to their environment and die easily. With the increases in tourism and urbanization in Australia, they and their habitats are under tremendous stress. Every year, 11,000 koalas are estimated to be killed by cars. They also die as a result of dog attacks and bacterial diseases. They face the constant destruction of their habitat and food, the eucalyptus trees. There were many bushfires in '94 and '95 with the drought that happened in Australia, further straining the diminishing koala habitat. The Australian Koala Foundation has estimated that there are only 40,000 to 80,000 koalas left today, down from around 400,000 in the early 1980's (Broken Dreamtime '95). It is estimated that approximately eighty percent of the koala's natural habitat has been destroyed, and much of the remaining percent is on private land. Individual owners have to make decisions to protect the trees and food the koalas require to survive, as well as watch for koalas when they drive, and keep their dogs contained.

WHAT IS BEING DONE

Many conservation groups in Australia have the goal of educating the public about how to individually prevent further loss of koalas right where they are. Efforts are being made to encourage the planting of koala food trees, looking out for koalas, keeping dogs contained, and advocating work to prevent further destruction of koala habitat. The koalas food and shelter must be protected if it is to have the chance to thrive again.

One thing that one private group organized is the Koala Hospital in New South Wales. The hospital helps save about 170 koalas each year, suffering from injuries or diseases, usually a result of the urbanization so close to their homes. The hospital survives mostly on volunteer labor and support.

Another project that is more conceptual and long term is the Australian Koala Foundation's "Koala Habitat Atlas" project. The project is the biggest push the Foundation is attempting to promote conservation of the koala. The researchers "use GIS technology to identify, map and rank koala habitat and to give land-use planners this vital information in a practical format." Because of the great amount of destruction that has already occurred, the project is attempting to evaluate what is left, what the koalas need to live on, and how to get the information out to those who can do something about it. Koalas are very habitat specific because they require specific varieties of eucalyptus trees, so land-use planning is the only way to really ensure their survival. Decisions about land use planning occur mostly on the local level of government, though the federal and state governments can have a large impact as well. The AKF would like to instill a feeling of stewardship among the people of Australia and the rest of the world to see that we don't abuse any more of the koala's resources.

The Australian Koala Foundation also sponsors "Save the Koala Month" and "Save the Koala Day." These two events occur in July, with the Day on the 31st. This is to encourage awareness around the world of the plight of the koala and encourage people to support efforts to save the popular and beautiful creature.

If anyone would like to know more about the "Save the Koala Month" or any other project the Australia Koala foundation is involved in, you can write to:

New York - USA Registered office of AKF

Friends of the AKF

c/o - The Nolan Lehr Group, Inc.

224 West 29th Street, 15th floor

New York, NY10001

Phone: 1-212-9678200 / Fax: 1-212-9677292

A CURRENT ISSUE: WHAT YOU CAN DO

Kangaroo Island Koala Reserve: A current issue relating to the situation of the koalas in Australia is the proposed translocation of koalas from kangaroo island, which is overpopulated, to the depleted koala habitat in New South Wales. This project is supported by the Australian Geographic Society but opposed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of Australia. NPWS favors the sterilization of the koalas on kangaroo island to prevent overpopulation, rather than transferring them. The project is headed by George Wilson, who hopes to transfer the animals and set up a colony by the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers in NSW. It is a favorable location and a similar transfer 25 years ago succeeded as the animals have continued to breed and thrive there. You can write, to show your support for the project and express your desire to see the animals transferred rather than sterilized, to:

National Parks and Wildlife Service, Level 1

43 Bridge Street

P.O. Box 1967

Hurtsville, NSW 2220

Australia

OTHER KOALA LINKS



 
Visitors since 15 June 1998: 


Your comments and suggestions on this document are welcome. Please send them to: Dr. Peter J. Bryant (pjbryant@uci.edu) School of Biological Sciences University of California, Irvine Irvine, CA 92717, USA Phone (714) 824-4714 Fax (714) 824-3571