Land lease a godsend for hungry koalas

City of Gold Coast's Koala Conservation Plan will provide a lifeline for koalas in south-east Qld.
City of Gold Coast's Koala Conservation Plan will provide a lifeline for koalas in south-east Qld.

A long-term lease from the City of Gold Coast's Koala Conservation Plan will see low-lying land at Merrimac adjacent to the Recycled Water Treatment Plant leased to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary for $1 a year through to 2032.

According to Dr Michael Pyne, senior veterinarian at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary Hospital, it's a lifeline for koalas in the south-east Queensland and far-north NSW regions.

"Koalas in these regions are in trouble," he says.

The famously indolent marsupials face threats such as loss of habitat, predators, and disease.

"There are some big challenges there, particularly chlamydia," Dr Pyne says.

"If we can't fix the chlamydia problem, in 20 or 30 years there won't be any koalas here."

Currumbin Wildlife Hospital has seen a dramatic surge in the number of admissions over the past decade, a situation Dr Pyne puts down to increased public awareness.

"Ten years ago we were treating 28 koalas a year. This year alone we've seen 461 koalas. You just don't know when they'll arrive."

Once they do, one of the challenges faced by hospital staff is feeding the patients. Koalas are at once voracious and fussy eaters, and by reputation, hospital food isn't the most inspiring of meals.

"Feeding sick koalas is a nightmare," Dr Pyne says.

"On average, it takes 1,000 trees a year to support one koala, and they only want the tastiest leaves."

In the past this has resulted in Currumbin staff scouring the local eucalyptus trees for the freshest leaves.

"And you need to offer them a variety of leaves, they won't take anything too dry or brown. It just took up so much time and energy, particularly as more and more koalas were admitted," he says.

"On top of that, it meant we were taking food away from wild koalas. It wasn't ideal."

The new plantation at Merrimac, expected to support another 20,000 eucalyptus trees over the next 15 years, will go a long way toward relieving that situation.

"It's a godsend. It's ensured a food supply for us through to 2032, and the nearby irrigation plant means the new trees will always be well-watered."

The City's Koala Conservation Plan has been set up to manage the region's koala population into the future. It encourages the public to report sightings or injured koalas and allows landholders to volunteer to conserve natural areas of rural land in exchange for financial support and technical assistance.

"The Council has been great to work with," Dr Pyne says.

"We've worked closely with their Threatened Species Team on the Merrimac project and we've wound up with a great result for Currumbin, and for the koalas."

Even though the koala is listed as a threatened species in Queensland, the staff at Currumbin are working hard to help the furry Australian mascot.

"It's not easy, but the technology is there. Chlamydia vaccines are looking promising, and initiatives like Merrimac are such a great help in the meantime," Dr Pyne says.

"There is hope."

Australian Associated Press