SYDNEY - A koala hospital and new wildlife reserves are the focus of one of Australia's boldest plans to protect the vulnerable marsupial. Almost 25,000 hectares of state forest will be set aside for koalas in New South Wales state, which will also set up a new clinic north of Sydney to provide specialist care for sick and injured animals.
Koalas are officially listed as vulnerable to extinction in New South Wales. The state government is to spend $34 million on a range of measures to protect the iconic marsupial.Special reserves will be set up where the animals will be able to breed freely.
The koala population in New South Wales has fallen by a quarter over the past two decades. It is estimated there are 36,000 koalas left in the state.Their numbers have also fallen in other parts of Australia.
The animals face various threats, including a loss of habitat due to land-clearing, attacks by dogs, bushfires, heatwaves and road accidents. A sexually-transmitted disease — chlamydia — is also harming the health of many koalas.
Special measures will also be put in place to help drivers avoid koalas that stray onto highways, including better signs. Tunnels and specially-made bridges have also allowed wildlife to traverse roads while avoiding cars and trucks.
New South Wales environment minister Gabrielle Upton hopes to set up a network of koala and wildlife hospitals to help injured animals.
"This is so there are places that we can have resident expertise in one placein places where we know that koala populations are present and need to be sustained and therefore increased over time. We are going to trial chlamydia vaccinations. Chlamydia is a disease that impacts them most severely on the north coast in New South Wales. There are some really practical parts of this package that address some of the roadkill hot-spots," said Upton.
"We have had some success with underpasses and overpasses in areas where they know they have core habitat. We need to ensure we have the right road signs, the right fencing."
The new koala clinic will be set up in Port Stephens, north of Sydney. It will join an existing hospital in the regional town of Port Macquarie that began treating injured marsupials in 1973.
Conservationists have welcomed the new facility but argue that the New South Wales state government's multi-million dollar plan does not address the number one threat to koalas - land clearing and logging.
The koala lives in trees and has large furry ears, sharp claws adapted for climbing and no tail. It features in many Aboriginal stories of creation and is considered a totemic species.