By Jess Lodge Tuesday 18th May 2017
© Provided by ABC News Koalas face a variety of threats including disease, bushfires, cars and habitat loss.
A once-thriving population of koalas is disappearing from parts of Queensland’s Fraser Coast, and researchers say a larger survey is needed to figure out why.
There were numerous sightings of koalas in Tiaro, south of Maryborough, during a public survey 15 years ago, but a recent survey by researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast found none.
Researcher Anthony Schultz spent two months surveying and did not see a single koala, or find any evidence that koalas were, or had recently been, living there.
“We found nothing. It was very surprising, there is lots of good habitats there, lots of state forests and council reserves and areas where koalas should be living very happily,” he said.
“I think that we run the risk of turning around in 10 years and going where are our koalas? Why did nobody tell us about this? We’re trying to.”
Researchers trained rescue dogs to detect koala scat and explore sites where koalas had been previously spotted.
“Koalas can be very difficult to spot; people who spend their whole lives surveying koalas we know that they can miss them quite frequently,” Mr Schultz said.
“[Dogs] are much faster and are much more accurate than we are,” he said.
While koalas face a variety of threats, including dog attacks, bushfires, car strikes, habitat loss and fragmentation, and disease, Mr Schultz said the cause of the disappearance of the Tiaro population was unknown.
“We did not find any koala scat during our surveys, suggesting that the Tiaro koala population identified in the 2003 survey is either no longer present, or so small as to be undetectable,” he said.
“There is sufficient koala habitat to sustain a healthy population, and yet we were unable to find any koalas.”
But Mr Shultz would not speculate without further research on what may have driven the localised population decline in Tiaro.
He said similar surveys in the Tinana and Booral areas had found evidence of koalas, showing that there were still koala populations on the Fraser Coast.
Natalie Richardson from Koala Care Fraser Coast said there had been less sightings in the area over the past few years.
“We had serious concerns for a while about spots on the Fraser Coast that were heading for localised extinction … and Tiaro was one of those spots,” she said.
She said disease and development seemed to be the obvious contributing factors.
“Chlamydia was definitely one of the main issues, I think a combination of that with habitat loss due to road clearing and also fragmentation of their habitat,” she said.
“They did lose significant areas during the floods along the Mary River … and the drought as well would have added to it.”
She believes Tinana, north of Tiaro, will be the next spot where the koala populations will disappear.
“It’s incredibly disappointing, heartbreaking, frustrating, aggravating,” she said.
“Hopefully there’s the possibility that there would still be little isolated populations there. I believe a more extensive survey could and should be done.”