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Koala Comeback Trail!

Hope for the Future

The Face of Australia

Nothing has more vividly conveyed the barren dystopic predictions of an evolving Anthropocene as much as visual captures of the Australian bushfires of 2019/ 2020. Amongst the sickening horror, they led people to pine for the koalas they had almost forgotten about, assuming actually for some time perhaps that they must be doing fine up in their trees, just hanging out, chewing on some leaves.

Until these images. The sight of despairing, wandering injured wildlife (disputably) sold the bushfires donation drive which amassed at least half a billion dollars. Touching people everywhere on a deeper plane, evoking tearful empathy.

Unknown to them inside the turmoil in the trees, the cutest poster models for Australian tourism had become highly effective beggars for the bushfire cause overnight.

Forecasts for koala populations in Australia are grim. Experts estimate Koala populations have dramatically fallen from approximately 250,000 in 2000 to around 100,000 in 2019 in Eastern Australia, which is the original native land they have occupied.

Aside from the original turf, there are scattered groupings around the rest of the country, termed by Australian Koala Foundation “island zoos”. Found in locales like Kangaroo Island, also in inland islands such as man-made koala boardwalks, where they’ve been introduced to strange territory, isolated from neighbouring groups, and often left to survive – or not. But even when they have taken well to their surroundings, the tampering of humans in their so often cruel urge to control, has impacted on their natural lives. As they happily began to flourish in numbers on Kangaroo Island, policy makers jumped in and began culling.

It was been widely asserted that the koala is endangered to the level of potential full extinction by 2050. These projections are based on recorded declining figures due to: accelerated rates of habitat loss through deforestation; incidence of dog attacks and car accidents in residential areas; the sad tragedy of introduced disease; and cruel culling trends. These predictions were made in 2019 – even before the black summer fires. Logical calculations based on past statistics back these claims.

Since the rampaging bushfires, their numbers have been dented dramatically further. World Wildlife Fund, who make regular checks on endangered animal populations, published in a recent report assisted by Google Earth mapping of burnt areas, that some of the areas with the most koala coverage in NSW have suffered an average loss of 71% of the koalas in the 2020 fires.

Of course it is a reality to wake up to for Australians – and people anywhere on the planet where there are areas of high flammability. Extreme needs to strategise and weaponise, in order to slay the fire breathing dragons swooping down through our atmosphere with increasing fury due to escalating world climates, must be realised.  

Hopefully the donations can help. Taking on a quick research into the total amounts of the famously big donations, given specifically help the koalas, just a little info was discovered. Many people have been wondering – how has the money been used to assist the survival of the koala? To safe-guard them against the elements and distorting landscapes, build safer environments and transit zones for them? And finally perhaps help to eradicate the infliction of chlamydia?

Donations in Use

Catching up almost a year later as we enter the summer in Australia again, let’s look into the progress so far.

WIRES, a headlining wildlife rescue organisation in the charity tallies, according to reliable news sources received around $60 million of the total from the half a billion dollars amassed for bushfire causes. As a ground level operation enacting their longer name “Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service”, they were reportedly initially overwhelmed by the amount. It has allowed them to now expand beyond the state of NSW they were previously limited to act within, enabling them to channel funds into programs designed to help wildlife in any state. Equipped with expertise allowing them to reach the animals directly, they are in a position to support other groups in doing the same, and to contribute to training schemes. Along with rescue and rehabilitation, research endeavours and innovative projects rate in importance.

Of the millions donated to WIRES – they have passed along one million to the newly established “Koala Health Hub” at Sydney University to support koala research and management. Another million has been dedicated to getting behind distribution of innovative water drinking stations in trees, at least 800 will be installed across NSW. Anyone in an area with koalas are welcome to apply as bubbler hosts. WIRES, along with other organisations also invite contributions of ideas to help.

Donation totals for other organisations totals were not easily retrievable, but all are continually seeking further assistance.

WWF have a number of projects underway. With “Koalas Forever”, they are aiming to achieve a stated goal of doubling East Coast populations by 2050. Funds are to be distributed towards: wildlife carers and medical facilities; creation of wildlife corridors enabling safety of movement; and restoration of habitat areas.

Regenerating the earth is important, but is has been an unfortunate delayed reaction for fire victims, including many of the amazing creatures who were found wandering the burnt horizons, depleted of food and hydration in the aftermath of disaster. Additionally, the need to restore ecosystems to prevent burning of much of the areas struck by fire before the events, was sadly overlooked.

At least the renewal process is being sped up in a WWF initiative to boost koala food supplies fast – with drones designed to disperse up to 40,000 seeds a day. This project, “Regenerate Australia”, will rely on donations targeted at $300 million over the next 5 years.

Ongoing Needs

Koala survival is now such a delicate operation, every solution must be maximised to guarantee their continuity of existence. Any culling policies need to be fully cancelled. Pet owners should be better educated to prevent unfortunate attacks. As they can occur in backyards which koalas navigate through during breeding season, it’s imperative that humans learn to accept living in respect and harmony in pockets of nature they choose to reside. Compromises such as keeping dogs inside at night, or other comfortable enclosures need to be made.

Koalas don’t just hang out in trees, they need to move around. More investment into transit zones can add to securing future survival rates. Wildlife corridors in the form of bridges and tunnels to be established. Buying land to prevent wasteful unnecessary destruction of habitat can also help.

But the most devastating scenario in need of attention is the incidence of chlamydia in the koala population. It is a disease that potentially causes excruciating pain, blindness, and further threatens their entire existence with it’s effects on fertility. Chlamydia was introduced by humans so needs to be solved by them. Treatments and vaccines have been formulated which are proven to work, it is owed to them so donations will hopefully be used to clear the disease; along with all other concerns relating to the koalas and other wildlife, whose needs have been actually neglected for some time.

Koalas are currently being vaccinated in Gunnedah and Currumbin. Funding for these has been largely government and private philanthropy so far. It is just as cruel to let disease stricken animals suffer in the wild as it was to let them wander blindly in flames.

Sharper, defined and transparent koala management is going to be needed. To reach the target of even doubling the numbers of those koalas we still have by 2050, means all these forms of intervention and regeneration will be necessary.

These are some of the main copy/paste promoted groups who are deemed to be using funds received for a lot of good, and are in communication to share expertise:

  • WWF
  • Australia Zoo wildlife hospital
  • Currumbin wildlife hospital
  • Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

Localised smaller organisations also need continual assistance, and not just money. It would seem more organising, leadership, rescuers, and ideas are also vital to reach the goal of restoring the koala existence, in the healthy, carefree life they deserve.

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