CRUELTY and puppy farms are issues that grab headlines but experts say there’s an animal welfare crisis being ignored — and it may wipe out the koala.
Shannon Molloy News Corp Australia Network SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 11:48AM
AUSTRALIA is in the grip of a hidden animal welfare crisis that could see one of our most cherished and famous creatures wiped from existence.
While issues like cruelty and puppy farming rightly dominate headlines, causing outrage and legislative change, animal welfare groups say tree-clearing is a far more serious problem that’s being ignored.
A new report by RSPCA and WWF-Australia, released today, highlights the worsening impact of tree-clearing across the east coast of the country — and koalas are on the frontline.
“The enormous extent of suffering and death caused makes tree-clearing the single greatest animal welfare crisis,” the report found.
“Yet it is largely unmonitored and unstudied, and neglected in wildlife policy and law.”
An orphan koala joey held by a rescue carer.
Orphan koala joeys at a carer’s home. They were displaced by tree-clearing.
Tree-clearing rates due to urban sprawl, logging and development have more than tripled in recent years and Australia’s east coast now is one of 11 global deforestation hot spots.
“Even if the animals escape the grinding bulldozers and crashing trees, native animals face deprivation or death, crowding into remaining habitats that are already full,” WWF-Australia boss Dermot O’Gorman said.
“As they search for a new home they are often hit by vehicles, attacked by other animals or tangled in fences.”
X-ray of koala with leg fracture from vehicle strike, southeast Queensland, April 2017. The koala was from the Moreton Bay region and had orthopedic repairs on their broken limbs and was luckily able to be released.
Tree-clearing has caused the greatest animal welfare crisis in Australia, WWF says. Picture: Supplied
Tens of millions of wild animals suffer injuries, displacement and death every year due to the bulldozing of their forest and woodland habitats, the report revealed.
In Queensland alone, WWF-Australia estimates tree-clearing kills about 34 million native mammals, birds and reptiles annually.
In 2010, it was estimated that the state’s koala population stood at just 15,000.
To put the tree-clearing crisis in perspective, between 2009 and 2014 more than 10,000 koalas were admitted to four wildlife hospitals across southeast Queensland.
Koala mother and joey seeking refuge on a bulldozed log pile, near Kin Kin in Queensland.
An orphan koala joey recovers at a refuge in southeast Queensland.
Nationally, the Australian Koala Foundation believes the koala population — which is concentrated across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, is less than 80,000.
In addition to koalas, tree-clearing victims include mammals like the feathertail glider, a range of native birds and countless reptiles and frogs.
Orphan koala joeys playing on the couch with their carer, Clare Cover. Clare manages Return to the Wild, a non-profit association providing rescue, trauma care, hand rearing and rehabilitation of koalas, wombats and other Australian wildlife.
Clare Gover, a wildlife carer from southeast Queensland, said the koala is being pushed “further and further to the brink”.
“I think people would be absolutely shocked if they knew how many koalas and other wildlife were being killed every year,” Ms Gover said.
“The koala is a protected species, it’s listed as vulnerable. There’s no point protecting the species if we don’t protect its habitat.
“Your grandkids may never see them in the wild and that’s heartbreaking.”
Juvenile eastern bearded dragon (Pogona barbata) rescued from clearing on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
Clearing near Roma, Queensland. The machine shown here is deadly for wildlife because it both pushes trees over and mulches them, not allowing animals any time to escape.
WWF-Australia and RSPCA have called for four major changes to alleviate the crisis caused by tree-clearing.
They include stronger restrictions on tree-clearing, the mandatory survey and relocation of native wildlife, more strategic rescued animal relocation policies and increased funding for research and rescue.
News Corp Australia has contacted the Queensland Government for comment.
Wildlife carers give their time and their homes to our sick, injured or orphaned wildlife