Australia’s koalas receive unlikely assistance from elephant expert

Dr Jimmiel Mandima from International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) flew to Australia in October to help guide programs to help the nation’s koalas. His expertise comes from the Room to Roam program, which aims to link fragmented habitat to stop animals becoming landlocked.

Video transcript

- An African elephant expert has flown to Australia to help the nation provide better habitat for koalas.

JIMMIEL MANDIMA: It's been phenomenal, first time to Australia there used to be millions of elephants in Africa roaming the wild lands. There are now about 450,000 at our estimates.

- He specializes in habitat fragmentation, an issue that isolates animal populations and results in them coming into conflict with humans.

JIMMIEL MANDIMA: And my interest is to see how we can foster coexistence between people and elephants. And we want to work with landowners to create safe passages for elephants to coexist in a reasonable way harmoniously with people.

- Elephants in Africa have become landlocked inside national parks by development, and koalas face a similar problem.

JIMMIEL MANDIMA: Honestly, the only difference is the size, and maybe the propensity to move long distances. Koalas require very specialized habitats. They have a specific type of vegetation they live on. But because of the destruction due to fires, and even flooding now, we are seeing the space for koalas in habitats therefore shrinking. Then secondly, we have seen quite significant threats to koalas here, from even just dogs, or from cars when they try to walk across a road.

- Being stuck in fragmented habitat can have severe impacts on both koalas and elephants.

JIMMIEL MANDIMA: Genetics, 10 points that is inbreeding. And that means the viability of the population to be able to regenerate with the strength and all the resilience they require, is compromised. It basically also means that they are confined in an area where their food and browse is limited, and they are not able to explore, as they are able to do, other areas for habitats.

And then lastly, if populations always function better beyond just one sub-population in an isolated park, this has the collective of sub-populations that make up what we call, meta populations.

- The charity he works for, IFAW, is focusing on tree-planting programs to help connect different habitats together.

JIMMIEL MANDIMA: You deal with governments that own state land, you deal with local communities and traditional leaders, and then you deal with private landowners. Reconciling the conservation initiative toward life with people issues is key. And we are getting that it's not about animals only, but animals and people driving together.