Koala Islands: islands of bushland, often small parcels of land that are surrounded by human impact. These islands of habitat are often disconnected from each other creating a mosaic of green patches on a satellite map. These archipelagos of islands sound the death nell for koalas who aren’t able to grow and expand to new areas.
Isolated, these koala populations become prone to stress, disease, interbreeding, rivalry and often misadventure as they cross the gauntlet of humanscapes searching for new habitat.
Throughout the east coast of Australia a tragic story is unfolding where these lovable cuddly slow moving koalas are losing their lives at a calamitous pace.
With rampant human development, habitat loss is happening at an increasing rate squeezing animals in rapidly diminishing areas of refuge.
The problem is as these areas become smaller than become fragmented from each other to the point that their habitat becomes a series of disconnected islands, and archipelagos of refuge.
Yet as these populations of koalas are cut off from each other they begin the slow march to inevitable extinction. Without the connection of islands, populations begin to inbreed and in time die out to become deserted islands.
Only this morning I witnessed this unfolding story in play.
My wife Heidi was called out by Wildcare to go pick up a koala that was found sitting in the middle of the recently constructed tram tracks. No doubt this mature (4 year old) female koala, which was named Cushion.
Diminishing Koala Islands
A koala proof fence had been constructed along the length of the tram line. Cushion no doubt had his way of getting over it, as did a number of koalas over the past few months.
As koalas expand in population, they seek out new territory. And here lies the problem. As habitat diminishes it begins to create great stress in populations that are hemmed in.
Young koalas go seeking new habitat, often crossing busy roads and people’s backyards. They run the gauntlet of being run over by passing traffic or savaged by dogs.
It isn’t easy being a koala living in one of these isolated pockets. The pocket of land that Cushion lived on had in recent years decreased in size due to a combination of infrastructure expansion and development. As she was a mature koala, Cushion may just have been roaming around her home range and possibly trying to cross to a patch of bushland on the other side of the motorway. Unfortunately, her patch of forest with such development is now a very dangerous place for a koala.
At The Koal Face
Koalas on the Gold Coast are brought into Currumbin Wildlife Hospital having had an encounter with a dog as they cross backyards or hit by a vehicle while looking for suitable new habitat. Other koalas are suffering from clamydia that can affect a koala’s eyesight. Many get to the stage that they sit on the ground, totally overwhelmed or wandering in circles. It is sad to see.
It is inspiring to see the hard working staff at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital and the dedicated network of volunteers who treat and care for sick and injured wildlife. Ther passion and commitment is truly inspiring.
The recent land clearing of native forest at Coomera to make way for a new shopping centre and housing saw many koalas lose their habitat. Dazed and stranded with no trees and nowhere to go, it was a distressing sight. A recent photograph in neighbouring Pimpama where land clearing is rife, of a koala sitting on bare earth surrounded by clear open ground provided a powerful image to the public.
Below is a video from the Wilderness Society on the impact that land clearing in Queensland is having on our koala populations:
According to a report by the Gold Coast Bulletin, a recent Gold Coast City Council survey found that 92 percent of residents highlighted their “dissatisfaction with the level of land clearing occurring in the city’.
How Much Can A Koala Bear?
Our koala populations are under crisis, and it is distressing to be the partner of a volunteer and seeing the distress and carnage that is taking place.
The stress of diminishing habitat is thought to be believed a reason why clamydia is now very common in urban koala populations.
What Can We Do About It?
I think awareness can bring about real change.
On the Gold Coast there has been little thought for our native wildlife when approving developments.
Gold Coast City Council has been more focused on ‘progress’ using the old paradigm that nothing should get in the way of progress and the almighty dollar. This short-term thinking only leads to a diminished existence not only for our wildlife but those who live in these estates.
Koality Over Quantity
Often these estates begin by clear felling an entire area of every tree. Houses are built and a token park, parcel of bushland or green space is included in the development. There is a mentality to fit in as many houses on cleared land to make maximum profits.
Greater thinking needs to go in at the planning stage, to ensure that an independent environmental biodiversity consultant is brought on board to work closely with the developers and council. This way working closely together, koala corridors can be created between parcels of bushland that allow for the safe and easy movement of populations. These corridors connecting habitat can help to create the ‘middle ground’ between development and conservation.
Focusing on the quality of housing and the environment brings benefits to the people who will live there and if marketed correctly will not mean loss of profits.
This is all not new to anyone. Yet, it is time that we begin to take a stand for our koalas and demand sustainable development moving forward. The joy of a child encountering koalas and other wildlife without having to visit a zoo is priceless. When we lose a piece of nature we lose a part of our soul.
Klose To Nature
If we were to look at things from a purely profit based economy, suburbs with trees and bushland are often ‘worth more’. The houses in these areas often appreciate in value. People benefit through greater well being living close to bushland areas and this is seen in the higher prices of houses in these areas.
People want to feel ‘close to nature’. Knowing that there is a healthy population in ‘your backyard’ gives a sense of pride to many residents.
Be A Kustodian
On a personal level, slowing down in areas where wildlife frequent can help prevent accidents and fatalities. Another important thing is ensuring that your dog is on a leash when going for a walk in bushland, as well as having an enclosure in your backyard that would prevent a wandering koala from being attached by them.
By becoming more aware of the challenges that koalas face we can begin to have more effective discussions of what we can do to stop the dramatic population decline we have seen in recent years.
Koalas, are unique and iconic Australian animals. We need to begin to make decisions on a personal and community level that ensures that we look after our koalas.
The more we are able to be aware of what is happening to our native wildlife, the sooner we can begin to expect sustainable development policies as a given from developers and councils.
Not only is important to create koala corridors to connect koala islands, it is equally important to connect people with koalas. It is only through creating these corridors of communication and awareness about the challenges that koalas face can we begin to create enough public sentiment to expect real change.
If we are able to apply public pressure on councils and developers where koalas live, we may just have a chance from saving these iconic animas from extinction.