The heartbreaking koala extinction crisis and callous government inaction

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(Image via @koalacrisis)

A new report reveals the systemic destruction of koala habitats in Queensland and quantifies the total number of native animals lost each year from deforestation at a staggering 34 million. Sue Arnold reports.

IN A RECENT REPORT, entitled 'Tree Clearing: The Hidden crisis of animal welfare in Queensland', released by WWF Australia and the RSPCA Queensland, scientists estimate tree clearing in Queensland kills about 34 million native mammals, birds and reptiles each year.

This is an underestimate according to the report:

The enormous extent of suffering and death caused makes tree-clearing the single greatest animal welfare crisis in Queensland. Yet it is largely unmonitored and unstudied and neglected in wildlife policy and law.

Many animals die on the site of clearing. Some are crushed by machinery or falling trees. Others die more slowly from injuries, starvation and exposure. Others die as they flee from clearing in collisions with cars, fences or power lines, killed by predators or due to injuries or deprivation.

Rates of clearing from 2010-2015 (the latest for which data are available) show that the annual destruction of bushland more than tripled: from 26,000 to 114,000 hectares of mature bushland and from 66,000 to 182,000 hectares of regrowth.

Nearly 300,000 hectares was cleared at last count in 2014-15.

Most tree-clearing in Queensland overlaps mapped habitats of threatened species. Despite this, most of it proceeds without any attempt to seek approval under threatened species laws. The enforcement of State and Federal nature and biodiversity conservation laws appears to have been minimal.

The weakening of controls over habitat destruction in Queensland together with recent similar changes in New South Wales have led to eastern Australia being listed as one of 11 global deforestation fronts. These are the areas which on current trends are predicted to account for 80% of all forest losses up to 2030. Australia is the only developed nation in this ignominious list.

The report makes a heartbreaking case for not only immediate protection of habitat but an urgent need for wildlife laws that ensure monitoring and enforcement are mandatory provisions. Thus far, there has been no response by the Palaszczuk or Turnbull governments. Not surprisingly, there has been almost no mainstream media coverage of this report.

(Image via

All politicians should be forced to read the information and then update themselves on the situation in their own state. The ongoing destruction of native animals, birds and reptiles demonstrates unequivocally that Federal governments (both Labor and Coalition) have so severely weakened the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act l999 (EPBC) legislation they are incapable of protecting listed wildlife.

In fact, there are no provisions in the EPBC Act which would allow for emergency action to address wildlife crises.

With the complete refusal of both Coalition and ALP governments to address the appalling loss, much less recognise their existence, the future for Australia’s unique species, particularly the koala, is looking very grim.

The Turnbull Government is consumed by its "jobs and growth" mantra, bringing over 200,000 immigrants to Australia annually. With major urban developments, mining, highways and massive land clearing, it's a perfect storm for an environmental holocaust.

The plight of Queensland’s koalas provides the most telling example of respective Queensland governments’ policies of extinction. 

Let’s look at the background:

  • The Queensland Government has no idea of koala numbers. An overall estimation of 100,000 to 300,000 was suggested in 1990. The Federal Government’s Species Data Base SPRAT puts the number in 1990 at 295,000.
  • In August 2012, Brisbane's Sunday Mailreported that State Government data shows 23,725 koalas landed in wildlife hospitals in the southeast region since 1997. Euthanasia was the most common outcome.
  • In the same report, 1,760 koalas were taken to wildlife hospitals in the south east in the 16 months to May.
  • New figures in the 2012 report showed more than one third – 683 koalas – had to be euthanised because of their injuries or illnesses were so severe. Another 433 were dead on arrival. The statistics were collected from the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, Moggill Koala Hospital and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary Hospital.
  • In 2016, a paper entitled 'The Rescue & Rehabilitation of Koalas in South East Queensland' collated admission records from four major wildlife hospitals (now including the RSPCA) across South East Queensland from 2009 to 2014.
  • Results showed that during the six year study period, 10,139 koalas were admitted to the four wildlife hospitals.
  • More than 1,600 koalas have been rescued annually. 22% were diagnosed with chlamydia, 38% suffered trauma (vehicle strikes) and 20% from attacks by domestic animals.
  • Almost two-thirds of koalas coming into care were either euthanised or died. Only 27% were able to be released. In total, 3,437 koalas were euthanised by the four wildlife hospitals.
  • To put these shocking numbers in perspective, a 2013 wildlife survey in Queensland found that the koala population of South East Queensland was estimated to be 6,246 during 1999 and was found to have dropped to 2,279 by 2008 — a 64% decline over ten years. 
  • In 2017, a scientific report by Nature estimated the decline to be 80%.
  • In 2017, the Government set up a Koala Expert Panel which delivered an Interim report summary undertaken by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Policy Section. 
  • The Queensland Government’s “immediate actions“ developed prior to the Panel establishment were as follows:
  1. a habitat mapping project with the aim of improving koala habitat mapping in South East Queensland; 
  2. a revised ongoing monitoring program; and
  3. the creation of two koala precincts in South East Queensland.

As everyone involved with koalas in Queensland knows, habitat protection is the primary priority if the species is to be saved. There’s plenty of available current and historic habitat maps. Monitoring undertaken by community organisations and some local councils is all ignored by state and Federal governments. As for the two koala precincts, if the koala mortality continues at the current rate, if any precincts are created they will likely be home for a tiny relic of the South East Queensland population.

Listed below are some of the gems from the 'Koala Expert Panel Interim Report', which highlight the extent of government inaction:

  • In late 2015, a report entitled 'South East Queensland Koala Population Study' showed clear statistical evidence of a dramatic decline in koala populations in SEQ. The report showed a decline of around 80% in the Koala Coast area and 54% in Pine Rivers between 1996 and 2014 despite existing protection measures.
  • Loss of koala habitat is considered to be the threat having the greatest impact on koalas and urban development is considered to be the primary cause of habitat loss. Existing state and local government measures for koala conservation are considered not to be working.
  • Habitat loss indicates that the introduction of legislation and policy initiatives since 2008 has had very little impact in slowing the rate of habitat loss. Legislation is currently designed to facilitate urban development within the urban footprint, including in areas where koalas occur and therefore is not constructed to halt further loss of koala habitat or impacts on koala populations.
  • The existing legislation lacks the ability to deal with cumulative impacts. Approval processes are unable to take account of the cumulative landscape scale impacts and requirements for koalas.
  • Lack of clear monitoring objectives and links to the monitoring activities; monitoring not designed to evaluate progress toward meeting koala recovery; limited focus on western SEQ koala populations where little information is currently available; lack of explicit links between monitoring outcomes and policy development.
  • There has been almost no evaluation of the success of specific management activities for the conservation of koalas.

And finally:

  • Community and institutional behaviour have not changed to accommodate co-existence of koalas and their habitat with urban and rural living areas — especially in regard to koala friendly development, vehicle speeds, dog control and broad public demands for the installation of protective infrastructure.

This is despite vocal, passionate community advocacy.

Given that the Queensland election is likely to be declared in the near future, there’s little possibility that either Labor or LNP parties will pay anything more than lip service to the koalas’ plight.

Thousands of concerned Australians have taken to the Koala Crisis Facebook page to air their desperate concerns over the plight of koalas. Yet the mainstream media remains indifferent with the most blatant censorship of any information regarding the environmental crisis in Australia.

A Federal Government recovery plan for Queensland koalas will not be available until June 2018 — six years overdue, as it was required when the koalas were listed as "vulnerable" under the EPBC Act, in 2012.

It is indeed a shocking indictment of political policy and a betrayal of future generations, both human and non-human.

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

Sign the petition to save koalas from extinction here.


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