In the face of rapid urban development koalas face many obstacles on a daily basis.
- Habitat loss and fragmentation: loss of food, shelter and safe travel means a stressful life for a koala. It is the same for humans. The stress of losing a familiar “home” is thought to contribute to the increase in koala disease.
- Cars: development means home ranges get divided by roads. Hundreds of koalas a year are killed or injured by motor vehicle strikes in Queensland. This doesn’t account for the many injured koalas who recover in the hands of dedicated carers and vets. Driving slowly in wildlife areas and looking out for wildlife at dawn and dusk helps.
- Disease: Chlamydia is a bacterial infection carried by most koalas. The disease weakens the immune system under stress which leads to blindness and infertility. Symptoms such as swollen/pink eyes (conjunctivitis), chest infections and “wet” or “dirty” bottom (cystitis) from urinary tract infections are easily spotted in wild koalas whilst other koalas will carry this disease but show no clinical symptoms until examined.
Calling your closest carer, vet or sanctuary means the koala can be caught, examined and treated. Now a vaccine is available, some fortunate koalas can be inoculated against this disease before being returned to the wild. However, this vaccine is still being refined and tested on wild koalas and is not available to all koalas as yet.
A koala retro virus (KoRV), similar to HIV in humans, also affects koalas and suppresses their immune systems with horrific outcomes that include a range of cancers such as lymphoma and leukaemia resulting. Stress also impacts upon the immune system by reducing its effectiveness.
- Bush Fire (particularly high intensity burns): fragmented forests are fatal to koalas in bush fires. They have nowhere to go and whole colonies are wiped out. However some, remarkably, do survive and are cared for and rehabilitated by dedicated groups of carers. This is less of an issue in Queensland and Northern New South Wales, but has been devastating in Southern New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria and South Australia.
- Dogs: without appropriate wooden fencing or similar fauna-friendly fencing, koalas are easily trapped in urban back yards and many die from dog attack injuries. We all love our dogs and, with a little thought, dogs and koalas can cohabit. A few small adaptations to life with your dog can help. Confining your dog at night is a great start. Here are some popular misconceptions:
“My dog wouldn’t hurt a thing”:
Your dog may have never seen a koala and will feel threatened by the presence of such a strange animal. It will naturally attack.
“My dog would only play with it”:
Even a quick bite can kill a koala. Their skin is very soft and internal organs puncture easily. Shock is, of course, a high risk factor.
“It’s cruel to confine a dog”:
By restraining dogs at night, when koalas are most active, means that many attacks on wildlife can be avoided. Dogs enjoy the routine of being “put to bed” or “denned” at night.
“I want my dogs roaming free for protection”:
Unrestrained dogs can easy be baited or distracted. Your dog is safer at the house where he or she can guard you best.
“But I have a fence and no trees in my yard”:
Koalas climb the outside of fences to cross to other trees and get stuck in the yard with no way of escape. A tree branch propped against the fence will help.
“There’s plenty of bush for koalas at the end of the street”:
Unfortunately suburban gardens have become habitat as they connect to remnant bushland left behind when large tracts of habitat are destroyed.
Interesting fact: Dogs that help koalas? Yes. Specially trained “sniffer” (detection) dogs are used to find koala scat (poo) which helps scientists determine their usage of a particular stretch of habitat. These dogs react to the smell of koala droppings under trees. Queensland Koala Crusaders sponsors a beautiful and talented koala detection dog called Maya. Pay her Facebook page a visit by clicking here