Vanishing koalas

17 Feb 2012

How much can the koala bear?

Frank Carrick, Adjunct Professor in the Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation was interviewed by Nikki Barrowclough about the threat to koala populations.

Here is a terrible truth. Koalas are vanishing from Australia. There are probably fewer than 100,000 left on the continent. Once, there were millions. Their deaths, from a number of causes, range from poignant to pointless to grotesquely violent. Even so, when I started this story I still had a quintessential image in my mind of a koala asleep in the fork of a gumtree. That has been replaced by another more graphic and indelible image: a badly burnt koala clinging to a blackened eucalypt in south-east Queensland.

Rian is the koala's name. She was trapped by a controlled fuel-reduction "bushfire" that ripped through her habitat last September, after the area had supposedly been cleared of wildlife. When she was found in that tree, 2½ weeks after the fire, every one of her footpads had been roasted. She'd also lost her eyelids, as well as the tips of her ears.

Her temporary home is the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital in Beerwah, just north of the Glass House Mountains, where she's still recovering from her injuries. Adding to the sadness I feel after stepping into her enclosure is the fact that Rian is the first koala I've ever encountered. And there's an injury I missed. Her nose is burnt pink. It should be black. She doesn't shy away from her visitor, gazing steadily at me with the seemingly dispassionate expression typical of her species. And at least she's now well enough to be out of the intensive-care ward, where the sight of forlorn little koalas on drips or huddled in blankets is utterly depressing.

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