UNLESS the Sunshine Coast can get on top of its wild dog problem the extinction of our koalas may all but be assured over the next decade.
Gold Coast City Koala conservation expert John Callaghan has told the Sunshine Coast Koala Summit, that wrapped up in Noosa on Wednesday, feral predators such as dogs and foxes were the biggest threat facing koalas in prime hinterland habitat areas.
Mr Callaghan is a former Koala Foundation scientist who for the past six years has headed up the East Coomera Koala Conservation project that has been involved in the controversial practice of translocation of koalas.
He said while the Sunshine Coast still had some very good hinterland habitats away from the other main threats of urbanisation and motorways, the Gold Coast experience showed that moving them there could be futile unless the dog threat was negated.
By 2010, around 60 koalas had been taken out of the Coomera area earmarked for a new real estate town centre and moved to conservation parkland that was well below its koala carrying capacity because of wild dog predation.
“If we keep working on the wild dog problem then I think we’ll have a 70% (survival) success rate,” Mr Callaghan said.
“Without that the success rate will be much lower.
“We’ve had quite a few of our relocated females successfully bred, they’ve raised the young and those young have reached independent age and then several of those were predated in the space of a few weeks. It’s made us realise how vulnerable those little ones are.”
Assoc Prof Clive McAlpine of the Koala Research Network said local koala populations probably declined by 30-50% in three generations over the past 20 years with the Coast home to “one of the most vulnerable populations of koala in Australia”.
“The strip from the Gold Coast up to Noosa, the urbanising capital areas were once the stronghold of koalas and now they’re in rapid decline,” Assoc Prof McAlpine said.
“If populations start decline it’s very hard to reverse that mortality – we need to control those threats … the dogs, the cars, the disease and we need to protect that habitat.”
Assoc Prof McAlpine said the tipping point for koala decline came when 50-60% of the original habitat was destroyed and he said the worst affected areas in Noosa were around the Lake Weyba area where once healthy populations were being devastated by development.
And the academic does not believe translocation and environmental offsets – such as planned by the State Government at the new Noosa on Weyba development proposal – were solutions to rapid koala decline.
“The critical thing is that we need those larger blocks of vegetation – as patches get below around 100 to 200ha the probability of finding a koala drops off quite considerably.”
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