They’re among the cutest, most beloved animals on the planet, instantly recognisable as emblems of Australia’s diverse and fascinating wildlife.
However, a report from a parliamentary inquiry has recommended South Australia’s environment minister, David Speirs MP, class iconic Aussie critters koalas and kangaroos as ‘overabundant in certain areas’.
The Natural Resources Committee (NRC) has claimed koalas, western grey kangaroos, little corellas and long-nosed fur seals are reaching unmanageable levels in South Australia, resulting in a ‘deleterious impact’ on the surrounding environment.
During this inquiry, South Australian parliament’s natural resources committee looked into the impact and management of various ‘overabundant’ animals, examining whether or not current measures had been effective in keeping controlling the populations.
Following the inquiry, the NRC has now suggested culling as a potential option, noting how attempts to sterilise the enormous Kangaroo Island koala population had proven unsuccessful.
Presiding NRC member, Australian politician Josh Teague, has said these animals pose an ‘imminent threat’ to wildlife and habitats in South Australia.
Mr Teague, a Liberal member of the South Australian House of Assembly, stated:
The overabundance of several species was caused by changes to the landscape, including by the clearing of native vegetation.
Further, the committee heard that unless we act to manage the problem by culling abundant animals, there will not be a lot of other biodiversity in the state.
As reported by Adelaide Now, the NRC said they were ‘acutely concerned’ about the situation:
Without lethal management the numbers of koalas on the island will continue to increase to the point where irreparable damage occurs and the board believes that, on balance, the positives of culling koalas outweighs the negatives.
The inquiry also noted how, ‘some community stakeholders find the concept of culling an abhorrent approach in managing overabundant species’. And this is of course understandable.
As reported by news.com.au, it is currently illegal to kill koalas, in accordance with both the National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy 2009—2014 and the SA Koala Conservation and Management Strategy 2016.
There have previously been plans for a koala cull on Kangaroo Island. However, this idea was scrapped after members of the community expressed outrage.
Indeed, the idea of culling ‘cuddly’ creatures such as koalas appears deeply troubling when looking at such facts and figures. However, the situation on Kangaroo Island is far more complex, and cannot be looked at in the same manner as the wider koala population.
Is it OK to cull koalas? Here’s @davekendal talking about values and #sentiment analysis as well as panel study. Ppl say ‘NO’. Tell them animals in stress – still no. Brumbies = hello Rambo. #IAG2019Hobart pic.twitter.com/vnUfFgZ1dF
— Professor Jason Byrne (@CityByrne) July 11, 2019
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), koalas are listed as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (EPBC Act), with The Australia Koala Foundation estimating there are fewer than 80,000 koalas left in the wild.
Koala populations on Australia’s east coast have declined for a variety of reasons, including deforestation, diseases such as chlamydia, feral animal attacks and fire and vehicle collisions.
These adorable creatures have also been particularly hurt by climate change, with the trees they rely upon for their very way of life being affected by changes in temperature and rainfall.
However, in the areas of South Australia and Victoria, koalas are actually booming in numbers, so much so that efforts have been made for some time to reduce numbers.
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Koalas in certain areas of South Australia and Victoria are quite different to those in other parts of Australia, with some populations showing ‘dangerously low genetic diversity’ through inbreeding.
Koalas are not native to Kangaroo Island, and were first introduced in 1920 as a means of preventing koalas being wiped out on the Australian mainland. The population rose to unmanageable levels, with an estimated 27,000 koalas now living on the island.
🐨🐨🐨 Our scientists have found that #KangarooIsland koalas are chlamydia-free, which is potentially great news for other large #koala populations across Australia: https://t.co/5NvPgfb2W7 pic.twitter.com/QzB1Fj00Zc
— Uni of Adelaide (@UniofAdelaide) July 3, 2019
The Natural Resources Kangaroo Island (KI) koala management project was first launched in 1997, following an independent assessment of the island’s burgeoning koala population.
This assessment found the scale of the koala population was having a damaging effect on native vegetation, in particular manna gums.
According to the KI website:
As a result of increasing koala numbers, manna gums have been lost across many parts of the island, putting enormous pressure on remaining manna gum habitat and causing other ecological impacts, such as increased erosion of stream banks.
There is no evidence to suggest that koalas can self-regulate their numbers (as kangaroos do in response to environmental factors), which means they may eventually consume all the available food within an area, resulting in their own starvation.
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When unexpected visitors turn up for lunch 🤗 Welcome in #kangarooisland! • L'Isola dei canguri si trova al largo dell'Australia Meridionale, a sud-ovest di Adelaide. Più di un terzo dell'isola è protetto da riserve naturali che danno rifugio ad animali come leoni marini, koala e diverse specie di uccelli. • #beautifuldestinations #limprontaviaggi #travelling #vacations #visitaustralia #kangaroo #kangarooisland #instatravel #paradise #viaggiare #inostriviaggi #experiences #naturelovers #likesforlike #followforfollowback
The KI koala management project works to reduce koala densities to a sustainable level, through monitoring, fertility control and the restoration of koala breeding habitat.
Their website states they have had some substantial success when effectively reducing koala numbers through non-lethal measures, with the population dropping from 27,000 to 13,000 from 2001 to 2010.
However, the KI have noted how a 2015 census revealed a significant population increase, with a ‘major review and reform process’ now being implemented.
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Today's critters – lots of beautiful Kangaroo Island kangaroos and Tammar wallabies – they sure are pretty! Plus just one of the sheep on the island. Apparently there are half a million of them and I feel like we've seen them all 😂🐑 @authentickangarooisland @exceptionalkangarooisland #kangarooisland @australia #seesouthaustralia
According to this recent NRC report, more community education is needed within South Australian communities about the issue of culling overabundant species.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.