By Danielle Mahe 26 August 2023
Koalas now have greater protection under local Gold Coast laws.(Unsplash: David Clode)
New laws in a Queensland city mean people who live in designated koala habitat area must prevent their dogs from attacking the animals, by providing a range of options so the marsupials can enter and escape.
• The Gold Coast City Council has introduced tougher animal laws to help keep koalas safe
• Dog owners must create koala-friendly backyards, or be fined $309
• But some wildlife rescuers are worried the harsher penalties will stop people from reporting injured animals
From August 25, dog owners living in a koala habitat on the Gold Coast must construct steel or brick fencing away from trees to stop koalas from entering their yards, or install structures to help them escape if they do pay a visit.
Residents on larger properties must also keep their dogs indoors at night.
Failure to implement these measures will result in a $309 fine.
But wildlife rescuers fear the new animal laws could do more harm than good to conservation efforts.
The new requirement is part of an array of tougher local laws introduced by the Gold Coast City Council to crack down on irresponsible dog owners and protect native wildlife.
The council has published an interactive “koala area” map so residents can check if they live in a protected zone.
Dog-owning residents of the purple areas must create koala-friendly yards. Click here to see the interactive map. (Supplied: Gold Coast City Council)
In the event a pet causes bodily harm and injures a person or animal, then owners will be fined $774.
But the penalties for dog attacks could change after the state government released a discussion paper in June proposing a number of new measures, including possible jail time for irresponsible owners.
Concerns over fines
John Grant, a spokesperson from wildlife rescue organisation WIRES, said koala-friendly backyards were a “great idea”, but he was concerned the “hefty fines” could stop people from reporting injured wildlife.
John Grant says the increased fines may deter people from reporting injured wildlife.(Supplied)
“If we’re going to fine people, they may be dissuaded from contacting their wildlife group, the council, whoever, if their dog attacks a koala,” he said.
“The quicker that koala gets to a vet treatment or a vet assessment, the [better] its chance of survival.
“So, anything that’s going to deter that sequence of events is going to not help koalas.”
Jonathan Rhodes, from the University of Queensland’s School of the Environment, led an expert panel in 2017 to provide the Queensland government with recommendations to address its declining koala population.
Professor Rhodes said the new laws were a “move in the right direction”, as dogs were a major threat to koalas.
“Each year, probably about 100 koalas get taken into animal hospitals … due to dog attacks, around about 75 per cent of them die — so it’s a major issue,” he said.
Dogs are a major safety issue for koalas in built-up areas, an expert says.(Supplied: Deidre De Villiers)
But he said koala conservation should be a should a shared responsibility.
“I think we all need to take responsibility for trying to ensure that we don’t contribute towards the decline of koalas in the state, and particularly in south-east Queensland,” Professor Rhodes said.
Low-cost options available
Koala activist and dog owner Karina Waterman, who resides in a koala habitat area on the northern Gold Coast, said creating a koala-friendly backyard was simple and cheap.
Karina Waterman says creating a koala-friendly backyard is easy.(ABC Gold Coast: Danielle Mahe)
She bought two timber posts for $20 and propped them up against her fence as a koala escape route.
She also keeps her dog Arnie indoors at night.
“It’s not difficult to do … we live in their habitat,” she said.
“We benefit from having homes that were once their homes, and while we have koala populations that still navigate our backyards … it’s our job to do something to help them out.”
Karina Waterman made a koala escape route by placing timber posts against her fence.(ABC Gold Coast: Danielle Mahe)
A Gold Coast City Council spokesperson said an education program and other resources had been developed to ensure dog owners were aware of the new koala conservation requirements.
“The proposed new laws have been designed to help protect koalas by ensuring dog owners in designated koala areas provide koala-friendly backyards,” the spokesperson said.
“It is anticipated that a majority of dog owners affected by the regulations are likely already compliant with the requirements, or will be able to choose a minimal or no-cost option.”