The koala, cuddly symbol of a nation and one of the most beloved animals on the planet, is in crisis. Before Europeans settled Australia more than two centuries ago, about ten million koalas lived in a 1,500-mile-long swath of the east coast eucalyptus forests. Hunted for their luxurious fur, koalas were brought to the edge of extinction in the southern half of their range. In the northern half, Queensland, a million were killed in 1919 alone. After the last open season in Queensland was held in 1927, only tens of thousands remained.
Through the next half century their numbers slowly rebounded, in part due to efforts to relocate and recolonize them. Then urbanization began to take its toll. Habitat was lost, and diseases spread. With urbanization came the threat of dogs and highways. Since 1990, when about 430,000 koalas inhabited Australia, their numbers have dropped sharply. Because surveys are difficult, current population estimates vary widely—from a low of 44,000 by advocacy groups to a high of 300,000 by government agencies. More than a decade ago a survey of the Koala Coast, a 93,000-acre region in southeastern Queensland, estimated a koala population of 6,200; today there are believed to be around 2,000.
“Koalas are getting caught in fences and dying, being killed by dogs, struck by vehicles, even dying simply because a homeowner cut down several eucalyptus trees in his backyard,” says Deidré de Villiers, one of the chief koala researchers at the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management. For 15 years de Villiers, 38, has been tracking koalas, monitoring populations, studying the reasons for their decline, and creating guidelines to make development more koala-friendly.
De Villiers insists that koalas and humans can coexist in urban environments “if developers get on board with koala-sensitive designs,” such as lower speed limits for streets, green corridors for koala movement, and, most especially, preserving every precious eucalyptus tree. Unfortunately, koalas have another problem.
Full article from the May issue of National Geographic. To read the full published work, visit http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/05/koala-rescue/jenkins-text.
Images and excerpt are from the May edition of National Geographic magazine, Koala Rescue.