Results from the AKF's Koala Habitat Atlas deliver a grim picture of the status of Koala populations in all regions studied so far. Available habitat was found to be fragmented and degraded, and in many areas of suitable habitats, no evidence of Koalas has been found. The AKF believes that the national wild Koala population could be less than 80,000, a far cry from the millions which were shot in the early part of the last century for their fur. During the fur trade at least 3 million skins went to market. We have read in historical documents that at least three times that amount could have been shot.
It is likely that millions of Koalas inhabited Australia at the time of European settlement. Some scientists believe that these numbers had increased because white settlers had decimated the Aboriginal population who, they say, killed Koalas in large numbers. The AKF does not agree with this conjecture.
Many scientists in Australia do not support our view of the numbers of Koalas in Australia and the AKF would be happy to be wrong. Let a government official prove to AKF that there are millions of Koalas hiding somewhere and we will change our viewpoint.
At the present rate of habitat destruction, and with thousands of Koalas presently being killed each year by cars and dogs, it is obvious that time is running out. Action is needed now to halt this alarming decline in Koala numbers.
Koalas today are found in Queensland (Qld), New South Wales (NSW), Victoria (Vic) and South Australia (SA) (see map). Their range extends from the Atherton Tableland west of Cairns in Qld to islands off the coast of Victoria and South Australia in the south, and west to central and western Qld, NSW and Victoria. However, populations today are fragmented throughout this range and many populations are seriously at risk.
The distribution of the Koala is dependent upon the distribution of suitable habitat. It is difficult to know the distribution of Koalas prior to the time of European settlement. However, it is known that at that time eucalypt forests covered much of the east coast of Australia and they would have provided a large habitat resource for Koalas. While present knowledge of the Koala's ranging behaviour tells us that they would not have been evenly distributed over that range, their potential distribution would have been far greater than that of today.
Since European settlement, around 98 million hectares of land have been cleared for farmland, towns and cities, and further areas have been devastated by drought and the effects of fragmentation such as dieback and bushfires. It is estimated that 44% of eucalypus forests and woodlands, and callitris forest and woodlands (potential Koala habitat) has been cleared since European settlement from within the overall range of Koalas in mainland Australia, and today Koalas are distributed mostly in isolated populations over their remaining habitat.
In South Australia, where Koalas were hunted to extinction, and in Victoria, where this very nearly happened, authorities have relocated animals from islands to repopulate these states. Koala numbers have increased, but human interference has caused new problems such as inbreeding and overpopulation in some areas.
The AKF is often criticised for the numbers allocated to Victoria and South Australia. Our critics suggest that there are hundreds of thousands of Koalas in Victoria. The AKF does not agree. Although we acknowledge that there may be some isolated habitats or islands that have large numbers (sometimes in the 1,000s), we believe these populations cannot be considered to have long term viability because of their inbred status. Some studies suggest that these animals are already showing symptoms of inbreeding. The population figures we suggest reflect our view that these numbers are for genetically healthy Koalas capable of long term sustainability.
Click here for more information on isolated Koala populations.
Along the eastern coast, Koalas are most abundant on the central and north coast of NSW and the south east corner of Qld. These areas have rapidly expanding urban centres which threaten habitat occupied by Koalas. Local extinctions are occurring, and unless the habitat needs of Koalas are considered NOW, extinctions will continue to escalate.