Secret cull of 700 koalas doesn’t come as a surprise

Koalas mainly eat eucalyptus leaves. Pic: Jonathon Colman (Flickr CC)

Koalas mainly eat eucalyptus leaves. Pic: Jonathon Colman (Flickr CC)

It was shocking to hear of the secret cull of about 700 starving koalas in the Cape Otway region near the Great Great Ocean Road in western Victoria, but this does not come as a surprise.

Australian media, including The Age said “wildlife officials did three euthanasia sweeps to kill 686 koalas in 2013 and 2014 in a covert campaign that was designed to avoid any backlash from green groups and the community.” The newspaper claims the cull was conducted under the previous Liberal government to address overpopulation.

Many koalas in  Victoria have become refugees, displaced from their habitats due to mismanagement of gum tree plantations.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) campaigner Anthony Amis said their habitats have been shrinking more rapidly against a “large number” of koalas.

He said once plantations are logged, koalas that survive clearfelling become homeless, feeding on whatever suitable vegetation is remaining. At several locations, there are koalas living in a couple of trees. This often results in over-consumption of vegetation. He said, “Unless the koalas move on, vegetation will probably be overbrowsed, with the animals eventually starving to death”.

A koala, sitting beside the road on the way to Apollo Bay.. Pic: Shiny Things (Flickr CC)

sA koala, sitting beside the road on the way to Apollo Bay.. Pic: Shiny Things (Flickr CC)

There are regions in western Victoria where displacement resulted in starvation and deaths.  The Crawford River Region is one example where some of the displaced koalas moved to roadside vegetation, including old growth trees. The region has between 7,000 and 8,000 hectares of bluegum plantations.

In some native forests where koalas already exist, the influx of displaced koalas poses a great challenge. Most of them may remain homeless with no food to eat.

Amis said, “It does not take a genius to realise that logging of thousands of hectares of such habitat will cause a profound ecological impact.”

He added FoE also has concerns about the absence of animal care facilities in some of the more isolated areas to cope with increases of koala injuries during logging operations. Many animals could suffer horrible deaths. He said:

 “t is not good enough for the State Government and plantation companies to sit on their hands and do nothing about this problem. It is clear to us that we are only now witnessing the start of what will be a protracted and controversial problem.

Amis also noted that since the mid 1990s the State Government embarked on controversial fertility control options to control koala populations and reduce overbrowsing. He said, “Mt Eccles National Park and Framlingham forest have suffered overbrowsing in the past. We hope this situation does not increase into other areas in the South West”.

A koala crossing a road Pic: Supplied

A koala crossing a road Pic: Supplied

The population boom is presumed to be a result of displaced koalas coming from French Island. He explained the animals are more likely to be free from Chlamydia which means “the natural process of population control in koalas does not apply to South West Victorian Koalas”.

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Australian Koalas on danger list

Oprah Winfrey cuddles a koala during her trip to Australia in 2010. (Photo: AP)

Australia’s iconic bear– the koala –will become extinct in 10 years unless a national protection is given, Green activists have warned.

The Friends of the Earth and the Gippsland Bush have slammed the Federal Government for its failure to enlist the koala in the Gippsland region of Victoria under the nationwide endangered species list.

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Tony Burke said on Monday koalas in Victoria and South Australia should not be listed due to their abundant numbers in the said regions.

He admitted though that the marsupial is facing possible extinction in three states such as Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Real estate developments in recent years are said to have primarily displaced them from their natural habitat.

More than 40 percent of the specie is reported to have disappeared in Queensland while it dropped by third in NSW over the past 20 years. In the ACT region, koalas have completely disappeared, the SMH also reported.

Sam the koala became famous around the world after this photo was taken during the Victorian bushfires. (Reuters)

Koala advocates led by the Australia Koala Foundation have been pushing for the enlistment of the specie under endangered category since 1996, but the federal government has been ignoring the issue.

Last year, Greens Senator Larissa Waters had pushed for the marsupials to be listed as a nationally-threatened species believing that they are threatened. She said that with fewer than 5000 koalas left in south-east Queensland, for example, the senator believes that koalas along the koala coast may become extinct during the next 10 years.

However, until now, the Environment Minister is not convinced that the specie should be listed under the national endangered list. He said out that that while koalas have disappeared in the three states, the animals abound in Victoria and South Australia.

He, therefore, announced that koala has been listed under endangered species category covering the three states, but not a national listing following a three year scientific assessment by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee He said a species is usually not considered endangered if it is bountiful in some locations.

Following the announcement, the FOE and the Gippsland Bush blasted Burke for not listing the Gippsland’s Strzelecki Ranges koala as endangered or vulnerable.

In a media statement, the Green activists said the future of the Strzelecki Koala is “bleak” adding that the specie has lost 50 percent of its habitat in the past decade due to logging and fire.

FOE spokesperson Anthony Amis said almost the entire habitat of the Strzelecki koala is in private hands. He said the Hancock Victorian Plantations has converted close to 10,000 hectares of koala habitat over the past 14 years. Add to this was the 2009 Churchill and Boolarra bushfires which burnt out approximately 20,000ha of koala habitat.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Strzelecki koalas were killed during those fires. After 14 years of logging key koala habitat, Hancock Victorian Plantations still do not have a koala management plan, and 75% of logs from the Strzelecki Ranges end up at Maryvale Pulp Mill owned by Nippon Paper.

The activists groups claim that most of Victoria’s koalas are translocated from the South Gippsland to the French Island in the 1880′s. These koalas are said to have a low genetic diversity compared to the only native koala population which is based in the Strzelecki Ranges.

Amis is convinced that the “genetically superior Strzelecki koala” holds the key to the preservation of the species in Victoria, because translocated koalas suffer from a range of problems, many of which are the result of inbreeding.

The Strzelecki koala does not suffer from the problems of inbreeding which makes it more robust than its translocated cousins. “Its population is clearly unique in the context of Victorian and South Australian koalas. This simple fact appears to have eluded the Minister.”

Environment Minister Tony Burke during a media ambush interview. (Photo: News Corp)

In a related development, the Envronment Minister lashed out at the new Queensland Priemere Campbell Newman who released a statement claiming the koala protection law as a “needless duplication” and a “mindless red tape.” Newman claims that the environmental law will only serve as a red tape to potentially slow down the construction industry.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Heatwave threatens Australia’s wildlife

Australia’s famous New Year’s eve fireworks at the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge made another landmark spectacle to impress the world. But after the pyrotechnics have died down, the country-continent faces the reality of dealing with the temperatures soaring to over 40 degrees Celsius.

The Black Saturday flares up in Victoria (News Ltd)

The heatwave spreads throughout Victoria and South Australia. Melbourne and Adelaide started the year with day time high of 40 degrees Celsius and will remain at 30 level until tomorrow, AAP reported. Sydney and Brisbane are reported to have a more tolerable levels at around 26- 28 degrees Celsius, while Perth will experience around 31-degree.

Holiday-makers who are heading to the bush in the southern states are warned not to put up campfires. Fire and safety authorities have already issued bushfire alert warnings to caution residents and tourists to be bush-fire-ready.

A total fire ban has been issued in many regions in Victoria including tourist destinations such as the Southern Grampians, Apollo Bay, Warnambool, and other southwestern areas. The fire ban strictly disallows campers to build a campfire during the night while frolickers are also not allowed to light up a barbecue grill.

Two years ago, the bush fire famously called the Black Saturday razed 450,000 ha (1,100,000 acres) in Victoria sending residential, agricultural, and touristic areas into ashes. Affected areas included Kinglake and Whittlesea, Marysville, Central Gippsland, Beechworth, and to as far as the old gold town of Bendigo bringing to a total of 170 districts affected.

In 2006, the Grampians National Park was engulfed by another massive bushfire which burnt 130,000 hectares — or 47 per cent of the park.

Sam the koala became famous around the world after this photo was taken during the Victorian bushfires. (Reuters)

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimated that over a million of animals have perished in these bushfires. Other wildlife species have suffered from severe burns. Koalas and kangaroos which inhabit most of the bush habitat are most affected while the Leadbeater’s Possum, Victoria’s faunal emblem, is under further threat to extinction.

This koala became homeless after the fire (News Ltd)

South Australia is reported to have issued total fire ban on 13 districts out of 15.

Victorian Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley urged people—especially campers— to take extra care amid extreme heat conditions. He said most of the earlier fires started with campfires.

News Link: Asian Correspondent

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