Koality not Quantity

The koala is a true-blue Aussie icon. These marsupials are loved the world over, there’s just something about their fuzzy little faces and seemingly docile nature that people just can’t get enough of. In fact, they are so popular that they generate over $1 billion annually as tourists flock to Australia to get a peek of a koala in its natural habitat.

File:Koala takes a nap over a big branch. Raymond Island, Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park, Victoria.jpg
Photo by Andrea Messina taken from Wikimedia Commons

However, despite fame and fortune, all is not well with our koalas. In the state of Victoria, many koalas are eating themselves out of house and home.

The koala diet is almost exclusively Eucalyptus leaves which is both good and bad news for the species. The great news is there’s not a lot out there that eats Eucalyptus leaves and Eucalyptus trees are quite plentiful in Australia. So there’s a lot of food out there, and not much competition to fight for it – bonus. However, the bad news is that Eucalyptus leaves are tough, full of toxins, and have very little nutritional value… which is why most animals avoid them. To compensate for such an unfriendly food source, koalas need to be picky with their leaf selection and they need to eat a lot.

How many koalas can a forest bear?

In some places, we have an overabundance of koalas and it’s causing some major problems. Areas such as Cape Otway and French Island have an unsustainable number of koalas and they are eating more leaves than the trees can afford to lose.

Koalas munching their leaves are killing our trees, leading to mass starvation and the loss of habitat. The loss of Eucalypts is not only damaging to koalas, it radically changes the landscape which also affects many other species living in the area, including birds, possums, and gliders.

Image result for koala baby flickr eating
Photo by Aaron Jacobs taken from Flickr

So what do we do? Well… We could move them…

One way to care for both trees and koalas is to move animals from overpopulated areas to somewhere else that can sustain them. This is called translocation. It seems simple in theory but not so much in reality.

A sustainable ratio of koalas to habitat is approx. 1 koala per hectare. So to translocate 100 koalas, we would preferably want 100 hectares of koala-less habitat to move them to. That habitat also needs to have the right food trees to fit the koalas’ very picky diet. It’s no shocker that we are fast running out of habitat to move these koalas.

What about population control?

We need to lower the number of koalas in these overpopulated areas and we have nowhere to put them. No one wants to see a single one of these lovable creatures shuffle off this mortal coil, so what’s the solution? Contraception! Wildlife workers are catching female koalas and injecting them with a contraceptive implant, so they won’t have anymore young. Hopefully this will slow down population growth and reduce numbers to a more sustainable level.

Koala contraception projects take a herculean amount of effort and it takes years to effectively complete. We need to constantly monitor population growth and tree health to ensure that enough is being done to save our forests and koalas.

French island’s koalas are booming! Which is great, except they haven’t quite worked out how to catch the ferry off the island :/ Now we have too many koalas, more than the koala’s food-trees can handle:( if the trees die, this could spell disaster for these island koalas! My research with the #handasydelab is investigating koala numbers and tree condition across the island to make sure this does not happen! Stay tuned 🐨#koala #conservation #notreenome #abcmyphoto
Photo by David Martin taken with permission from Instagram

 


2 Responses to “Koality not Quantity”

  1. Georgia Huggett says:

    Thanks Kim!!!

  2. Kimberly Chhen says:

    I have to say, I love the puns! It works well with this post. You also did a great job covering the issue of koala overabundance in Victoria. I don’t think many people realise how serious the issue can be.