The chief executive officer of the Australian Koala Foundation recently visited the Surf Coast, intent to further her organisation’s primary aim – to gain formal protection of the animals through a single nationwide legislation, a so-called Koala Protection Act.
The Brisbane based organisation says that current legislation is failing the koala in that despite individual state by- state animal protection laws, there is no all-encompassing legislation to protect the animals from habitat destruction.
Apart from the obviously declining koala population, says AKF’s CEO Ms Deborah Tabart, at stake is Australia’s koala tourism industry, worth about $3.2 billion a year. Ms Tabart said that surveys have found that 75 percent of inbound tourists reported that they hope to see a koala when making the decision to come to Australia.
From reports, the 400-plus colony of koalas recently resettled on the outskirts of Lorne from Cape Otway and habitats along the Great Ocean Road, is settling in nicely, though Ms Tabart makes it a duty to visit annually as many koala habitats up and down the Australian eastern seaboard as possible.
The animals were moved to the Lorne area recently under somewhat controversial conditions with claims of the Victorian government adhering to a ‘dump and run’ policy - the animals were moved to the Lorne area after denuding parts of forests in the Cape Otway region, and along the Great Ocean Road, and before that on Kangaroo Island.
Presumably, when they have done enough damage to the Otways, they’ll be moved on. Needless to say, the AKF and the Victorian Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) do not read from the same page, as they say in today’s jargon. DELWP says the koalas were moved after extensive habitat studies to identify potential recipient sites for translocating the koalas; AKF sees it as a ‘dump and run’ policy without any real forward planning.
Ms Tabart said that the AKF wants to see the introduction of legislation along the line of the United States ‘Bald Eagle Act’ passed on the eve of World War II, originally only a single page which effectively guarded the birds as well as the trees they were nesting in.
The Act, apparently, worked brilliantly, thereby ensuring the longevity of the US’s prime symbol of nationhood. The eagle image (and they are not really bald but just have flat feathers on their head) is on the official seal of the United States.
A ‘Koala Protection Act’ would reconcile development and conservation – protect the environment but not at the expense of industry.
It would independently identify koala habitats (mapping) and require development to demonstrate that through their activities koalas (and their trees) will not suffer harmful impact. The act would insist on independent consultants providing advice to government and industry and make sure that community concerns are met.
It’s a big ask, considering Australia’s varied and diverse legislation developed by law-makers in each state, but Ms Tabart is indefatigable, talking constantly with government, industry, councils, in fact anyone who is willing to listen and possibly help out.
Various Australian authorities estimate that in 2013 our koala population was between 130,000 and 550,000 while the Koala Foundation figures showed an animal variance of between 48,000 and 95,000.
It’s hard to establish who’s right or wrong. But the fact is Australia without the iconic koala would be unthinkable.