Wednesday, April 13, 2011

KI Koala Kontroversy

Koalas were hunted extensively in the early 20th century, mainly for their fur.  By the 1920s, concerns had grown that the koala was severely threatened on the mainland and might become extinct.  Between 1923 and 1925, 18 koalas were released in Flinders-Chase National Park to protect them.

However, by the 1990s the KI koala population had exploded and threatened the native eucalyptus trees.  Turns out, the koalas had no natural predators on KI and the local gum trees had not adapted any defenses to the koalas.  In addition, this koala population is free of Chlamydia which may have lowered reproductive rates.  A survey conducted in 2000-01 estimated about 27000 koalas on the island.  (Total wild population estimates of koalas are 100-400,000 animals)

In 1997, the South Australian government proposed a population-control program to manage the KI koala.  This proposal included using culling as a mechanism for population control.  The controversy that erupted over killing koalas was probably predictable.  Opponents argue that disease and not enough trees on KI are a larger problem than the koalas

One argument that apparently carried weight was that this program would harm South Australia's image and damage Kangaroo Island's tourism appeal.  Eventually, the government scrapped this plan in favor of a sterilization and relocation model.  The expense and success of this plan remains controversial.

With pictures like these, it's easy to understand the outcry over the plan for culling.  On the other hand, in just a few days of watching this koala and joey we could see large bare patches in trees from their nocturnal munching.  The debate continues...

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