'Winston' the koala
'Winston' the koala Samuel Cardwell

Koalas are a dying species

YOU can hear the little fella long before you see him, a faint whimper mixes with ragged breathing in the pre-dawn chill.

A green B-double thunders by, so close that the breeze it leaves in its wake rustles my hair.

To my left just beyond a trickling creek the roofs of hundreds of new homes start to take shape.

Buddy Franklin, a five-year-old male koala has been in trouble before.

A year ago he was rescued from a pool, six months before that he was lucky to survive an encounter with a Staffie. Today he may not be so lucky.

Oozing eyes and a stained bottom are the most obvious signs his body is riddled with disease.

One look at the stony faces around me and the question of his chances of survival is strangled in my throat.

"We are right in the middle of koala season," says Murray Chambers who with his twin brother Ray runs Sunshine Coast Koala Rescue.

"So the koalas are on the move looking for partners and roaming often leads to accidents as they try to cross backyards and roads.

"These last few weeks we have had a busy run but it's probably much lower than say four years ago. There's not that many koalas left to rescue."

While data is patchy, figures point to a 63% decline in the koala population in South East Queensland in the past decade.

If this is not ringing alarm bells with you then it should.

We are faced with the very real possibility that an Australian icon, one that brings in $1.1 billion in tourist revenue, is facing extinction. On our watch.

Between 1997 and May last year some 4800 koalas were killed by vehicles and 1419 attacked by dogs, of which 1144 died. Another 5757 deaths were attributed to a combination of disease, cars and dogs.

"Development is clearly at the root of the problem," says Murray.

"We had clearing laws come in a few years ago, what happened with that? We need to get farmers to change their attitude about clearing and burning.

"It's the same thing with mining. They are clearing hundreds of acres out there. I just saw a picture of an area that has been cleared with one tree left in the middle because it had a koala in it. What is the future for that guy? There is nothing for 20km. When he comes down they'll chop that down too."

Now the Federal Government has finally bowed to pressure from the Greens, who are hoping to introduce their Koala Protection Bill through the Senate later this year, and place the koala on the vulnerable list meaning that major developments will have to get Canberra's nod of approval.

Some say, it's not enough.

"Put them on the endangered list," says Murray.

"That's what they are. At least then we will be forced to protect their habitat and they will have a little bit of a chance."

But in a cruel Catch 22 the Threatened Species Scientific Committee that recommended the "vulnerable" status won't go further because the data is unavailable.

Collating that data requires funding. Funding they would have if koalas were on the endangered list.

And in another twist of fate, perhaps the hammer blow, by March next year the government is returning federal environmental responsibilities to the states, including the protection of threatened species.

So, the only authority we will have to protect the koala is the very same one that has pushed them to the brink.


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