Ray Chambers holds the dead koala found on the Bruce Highway. Photo: Warren Lynam / Sunshine Coast Daily
Ray Chambers holds the dead koala found on the Bruce Highway. Photo: Warren Lynam / Sunshine Coast Daily Warren Lynam

Action for koalas “too little, too late” says advocate

KOALA advocate Ray Chambers has blamed a lack of credible action from all levels of government for the “imminent demise” of one of our national icons.

Mr Chambers, who runs Koala Rescue Queensland with brother Murray, said recent actions by the Sunshine Coast and Noosa councils and a commitment by the Queensland government to appoint a panel of experts to explore ways to better protect koalas were “too little, too late.”

“We’ve seen a reduction in koala populations everywhere we go,” he said.

“Different areas will reach local extinction at different times and I predict Maryborough and the Sunshine Coast will go first.

“Redlands and Moreton Bay will follow and the Somerset Dam area, outback Gympie and little bits of South Burnett will be the last to go.”

Mr Chambers estimated the Sunshine Coast koala population to be as low as 100, with many areas of suburbia such as Mooloolaba, Maroochydore and Alexandra Headland already “locally extinct.”

Implementing hard-line feral dog laws, toughening up on vegetation protection laws, installing wildlife fencing along highways and investing in linking the dwindling number of koala corridors were key areas Mr Chambers would like to see addressed.

“At the end of the day, we can scream and jump around and do as much as we can as a small group but until all levels of government invest money in koala habitat and get serious, we are going to see the demise of the koala in this lifetime,” he said.

“We sell this picture to the world and lure them here to see our animals and as soon as someone important gets off the plane, we throw a koala into their arms.

“What we do to them in the real world is shit. But we’ve got to keep trying.”

Saving our vulnerable wildlife is on the agenda at the Tweed Byron Koala Connections Forum
Sunshine Coast koala population predicted to be as low as 100. Hope Fennell

Environment Minister Steven Miles said the state government would consult with a range of specialists with a "diversity of expertise” relevant to koala conservation “as a matter of urgency” to discuss population dynamics, behavioural science, genetics, captive breeding, translocation, disease management, threat mitigation, rescue and rehabilitation, and town planning.

“The Queensland Government takes the protection of the state’s iconic and much loved koalas very seriously,” he said.

“We will review all koala programs in light of these findings to develop a plan that will support our koala population.”

The South East Queensland Koala Population Modelling Study was commissioned under the LNP and prepared by the University of Queensland to analyse and make conclusions on all known koala population data in SEQ.

Unfortunately, the Sunshine Coast was not among the areas included in the density modelling due to “incomplete survey coverage”.

The report did, however, find a clear statistical decline in koala population densities of around 80% in the Koala Coast and 54% in Pine Rivers between 1996 and 2014.

"It is clear from the science that we cannot just assume that the koala protection strategies put in place over the past two decades are going to stop populations of this iconic species continuing to decline’,” Dr Miles said.

The state government has invested more than $150 million since 1996 in programs to map and restore koala habitat, address the impacts of car strike, dog attacks and disease, rehabilitating injured animals, surveying animals and investing in science. Considerably more has been invested by other parties including local governments.

A Sunshine Coast Council spokesperson said the implementation of the Koala Conservation Plan has been “proceeding rapidly with significant headway” since October last year.    

More than a dozen components of the plan are underway or completed and include collation of koala observations, injury and mortality data, consultants undertaking a Fauna Road Impact Investigation to assist the council and state government to identify the most serious road danger spots for all fauna and a Koala Local Threat Assessment to allow council to target koala protection and threat mitigation actions appropriate at a local scale rather than applying broad brush actions that may not be locally appropriate.

Meanwhile the Noosa Council has prepared a draft, five-year Noosa Shire Koala Conservation Plan.

Mayor Tony Wellington said the draft plan, which is open for public comment, detailed more than 20 actions to improve survival rates, increase habitat, reduce the impact of both wild and domestic dogs, improve education and boost research.