Koalas, koalas, our much-loved koalas, no longer everywhere.
There’s a truly awful fact that, according to the Australian Koala Foundation,
“During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Australia wide, as many as 8 million koalas were killed for their pelts.”
That is hard to believe!
Fortunately, we no longer kill koalas and send their skins off to be made into lush furs for wealthy women in Europe.
But we have found other ways of killing off these precious native animals.
I have this old photo, taken in 1943, showing a small child sitting on a bench seat at the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary, in Victoria. A curious koala has come to check out her hair.
Koalas were plentiful then – nearly eighty years ago. Colonies had largely recovered from the slaughter of earlier years and were valued, no longer for their fur, but for the part they played as an important inclusion in the life of Australian fauna.
The koala in the picture is not behind cage wire or even a fence. In those bygone days, koalas roamed freely in the sanctuary – as well as in many areas in the country.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, koalas could be seen in abundance, sitting in their eucalypt trees all over Phillip Island, Victoria. People could walk in among the trees and see them everywhere. Often a koala would be perched quite low down in a tree; near enough to the ground to be seen and stroked by a child.
About ten years ago, I visited Raymond Island in Gippsland, Victoria and was thrilled to see four or five koalas sitting high up in gum trees. (Someone said they once had too many!)
More recently, near my home on the Gold Coast in Queensland I have seen four koalas, on four different occasions in a park near my home. But it’s taken about six years to see that many.
No longer do koalas randomly come up close to little girls to check out their hair.
No longer is Phillip Island home to hundreds of the creatures – living unobtrusively in the bush and beside the tracks. Where there once was bush, houses now crowd out the trees.
Koala habitat has been destroyed to make way for roads and housing development. All over the (mainly) eastern states, our cars have killed koalas as they search for their gum-leaf trees.
Our dogs have mauled and killed them as they venture into suburbia.
Last year’s horrendous bushfires, due largely to Climate Change, caused deaths of “as many as 10,000 koalas — a third of New South Wales' total population”.
And now, “The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there are less than 100,000 Koalas left in the wild, possibly as few as 43,000”.
It is sad indeed that the few places for us to now see a koala is in a zoo or wildlife rescue hospital, where tourists queue to have a photo taken with a koala, to show family and friends the precious, unique animal that once climbed the eucalyptus trees all over Australia.
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