A national audit of koala populations will be a key component of an $18 million package to help protect Australia’s iconic species.
The landmark koala package will include funding for health research and medical support, as well as the restoration of key habitat sites through on-ground actions such as revegetation, weed control, fencing, managed grazing and tailored fire planning and implementation.
Launching the initiative at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, Minister Ley said the koala audit would help direct Commonwealth, state and private funding to where it will achieve the most good for the species.
“For all our focus on koalas, scientists are telling us that there is a serious lack of data about where populations actually are, how they are faring and the best ways to help them recover after the devastating bushfires,” Minister Ley said.
“$2 million from this package will be devoted to filling those gaps, identifying where koala habitat areas can be expanded and establishing an annual monitoring program.
“Taronga Zoo is a shining example of what can be achieved, where staff are utilizing Australian Government funding to identify emerging risks following the fires, develop captive breeding programs, and build future bushfire response capacity from animal collection to the upskilling of veterinary teams.”
Annual reporting on koala populations and conservation strategies will become a mandatory agenda item at Meetings of National Environment Ministers and a range of techniques will be employed from scat monitoring to drone and acoustic surveys, detector dogs and citizen science surveys.
Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box said that this funding boost comes at a critical time for our koalas, following the devastating bushfires which killed and injured thousands.
“Today’s announcement will support the conservation community to respond to the devastating 2019-20 summer bushfire season which impacted important habitat for koalas and other threatened species right across Australia,” said Dr Box.
“By understanding where koalas are persisting, how they are using the remaining habitat and how they are responding to the fire impacted landscape, we can tailor on-ground efforts to ensure that action is focused where it is needed most.
“This package will really boost efforts to better understand the koala and support us in protecting this remarkable species into the future.”
Emeritus Professor Helene Marsh, Chair of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee said that despite their iconic status, there is still much to learn about koalas in different parts of their range.
“State and territory agencies, researchers and community groups are collecting much valuable information but there are still gaps and there is a need for national coordination and reporting.
“This funding boost will build on these efforts, to give us a much better picture on population numbers and trends, in turn enabling us to better target our conservation effort,” Professor Marsh said.
From the funding package, a further $2 million will be invested in koala health research and veterinary support, tackling challenges such as Chlamydia and other diseases that are second only to car strikes in the normal causes of koala mortality recorded in veterinary hospitals.
The remaining $14 million will help restore impacted koala habitat in both bushfire and non-bushfire affected areas and provide targeted funding for koala habitat in northern NSW and southern Queensland.