Koala Conservation Efforts Intensify As Species Rapidly Declines

Published August 24, 2016
Updated March 1, 2018

Koala Conservation: What’s Being Done

Koala Hospital

PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty ImagesThe sign outside the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie.

The few koala hospitals located throughout Australia are doing their part to help. Staff often take in orphaned koalas and deliver aid to those that have been attacked by dogs, hit by cars, or have fallen ill. Volunteers mainly run these hospitals due to lack of funding.

Koala Conservation Face Mask

PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty ImagesSherwood Robyn, a 12-year-old koala, is being given a general anesthetic before examination at Port Macquarie koala hospital.

One conservation group, Australian Koala Foundation hopes to change that by highlighting koalas’ economic value. Vying for more Australian government funds to help protect the animals, the group notes that Australia’s koalas form the marrow of a “lucrative tourism industry,” citing the $1.1 billion figure that tourists injected into Australia’s economy in a single year to see the marsupials. This, they added, “translates into around 9,000 jobs directly accounted for by koalas.”

Save Koalas Rally

Bradley Kanaris/Getty ImagesProtesters march during the Save Our Koalas Rally at Queensland Parliament House.

Economic worth aside, some involved in conservation efforts say that the koala’s decline constitutes a “wicked problem,” meaning that the problem’s origins are diffuse, and hard to understand with full certainty. Beyond lack of definite knowledge, wicked problems mean that any decision made comes with trade-offs, more uncertainty and hard choices. As University of Queensland and University of Sydney professors write:

“For a start, koalas are declining for several complex reasons. In the western parts of Queensland and NSW, the main factors are climate change (drought and heatwaves) and habitat loss. Along the coast, koalas are chiefly threatened by rapid urban development and the associated impact of vehicle collisions and dog attacks.

There is also considerable uncertainty about the role of disease (such as chlamydia and retroviral infections) in driving koala declines. We don’t know whether this is a cause or a symptom of the koalas’ plight, but we know that it is likely to be having an important impact.

These complexities make it difficult to identify the best management strategies to try to improve things.

There are also social and political complexities that tend to polarise, or at least confuse, the debate about koala conservation. For instance, there are strong trade-offs between koala conservation and other human needs and wants, such as land for urban development, agriculture and economic progress. In reality, these trade-offs tend to limit what is possible for koala recovery.”

Still, they have left some room for hope — that is, so long as governments work together strategically to plan for the marsupial’s survival. “The challenge is to formulate an integrated strategy across governments that funds the activities that really work,” the researchers said. “This means that planning for koala survival and recovery must include all levels of government and their legislative and policy frameworks.”

Erin Kelly
Erin Kelly is a freelance writer, artist, and video editor that splits her time between the humid Midwest and the dusty corners of her mind.