The Queensland Government is reviewing its koala “translocation” policy after more than 40 per cent of animals removed from the booming northern Gold Coast suburb of Coomera died within five years.
The koalas were moved about 40 kilometres from their habitat and into the Gold Coast Hinterland.
Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said in a statement that they fared better than the population that remained in Coomera.
“The 180 koalas that were translocated from the East Coomera site between 2009-2014 had a better survival rate compared to those that remained at the site,” she said.
“Over the five years, koala losses due to disease, predation or road trauma totalled 50 per cent for the resident group that remained at East Coomera, compared to only 42 per cent for the relocation group.”
The Minster said data showed translocation was not responsible for, or contributed to, the koalas’ rate of mortality.
“All of these animals were broadly subject to the same threats — habitat loss, predation, road trauma and disease,” she said.
Karina Waterman, a spokeswoman from the Coomera Conservation Group, said the Gold Coast suburb has changed as developments, including the almost completed Coomera Town Centre, reduced native bushland.
“The bits that still remain are heavily fragmented which means koalas are on roads a lot, they’re in backyards a lot so they’re encountering cars and dogs a lot so it’s not a terrible surprise,” she said.
‘Development virtually unstoppable’
Specialist koala ecologist Dr Steve Phillips, who worked with the Gold Coast City Council before and after the Coomera relocation, said he examined the koala population in Coomera between 2006 and 2007 and estimated there was around 500 animals and 300 were living in habitat that was going to be impacted by the construction of the large shopping centre.
He said authorities found themselves in a difficult position.
“The question you have to ask is what are we going to do given that the whole development process is virtually unstoppable and has already been sanctioned and approved,” Dr Phillips said.
“There’s a forced dispersal of several hundred animals into a pretty hostile landscape, so what you expect to see as a result of that are elevated numbers of koalas being killed on the roads, elevated levels of disease in the population, as a result of distress.”
Minister Enoch said a review of the translocation policy was needed.
“As highlighted at the Estimates hearing yesterday, the translocation policy is being reviewed, as was recommended by the Koala Expert Panel.”
“We need to make sure that the translocation policy framework is in the best interest of the animal, and not developers,” added the minister.
Dr Phillips said he believes the translocation policy was working well.
“We have developed some very good translocation protocols and we know from monitoring that we can effectively translocate these animals,” Dr Phillips said.
“When it’s done in accordance with some strict protocols, their survival rate is very high,” added the ecologist.