Late on Wednesday, a koala narrowly missed being hit by traffic on a dangerous stretch of road branded the 'killing corridor'. A photo of what happened next went viral.
It shows the animal perched on the lower branches of a gum tree, but there are three significant details in the image that have inflamed tensions around southwest Sydney where it was taken.
Firstly, if you look to the right of the tree, you’ll see a large billboard. It’s there to advertise LendLease’s controversial Figtree Hill development which is set to transform the tiny town of Appin into a bustling estate.
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Second concerning koala image detail
The second detail in the image causing concern amongst wildlife advocates is the most immediate one — the large fence that surrounds the LendLease site.
While the company has promised to build underpasses so koalas can safely cross increasingly busy Appin road, they are yet to materialise.
In a statement provided to Yahoo, LendLease acknowledged the community has been calling for underpasses for years, and it agrees they are “urgently needed”. It said its efforts have been delayed by state government authority Transport for NSW.
“Our proposal for a $170 million upgrade to Appin Road, which includes urgently needed koala underpasses and fencing, is still awaiting approval from Transport for NSW. As soon as we receive approval, we are ready to begin construction,” it said.
Describing Appin Road as “Campbelltown’s killing corridor”, WIRES said overpasses and underpasses are needed to stop the “carnage” from continuing.
The charity’s director of government relations Peter Stathis said it is working with LendLease to raise awareness about koalas affected by the development, but highlighted another urgent change Transport for NSW needs to make.
“We are working to convince Transport NSW to reconsider its resistance to lowering the speed limit there and at other koala road killing hot spots across NSW. This simple and easily implemented measure has the greatest potential to reduce koala deaths on NSW roads immediately,” he said.
Responding to concerns about koala deaths on Appin Road voiced by LendLease and WIRES, Transport for NSW issued a short statement to Yahoo.
"Transport for NSW is working through the complexities and conflicting views from stakeholders regarding proposed measures, including koala fencing, grids and fauna underpasses designed to minimise koala strikes along Appin Road and preserve local koala populations," a spokesperson said.
"More koala-warning signage was recently installed along this stretch of road."
Koala safety on Sydney’s roads worsening
Rescuers from WIRES say the region’s growing population has brought more cars to the area. Fatal car strikes are on the rise, with koalas unable to safely navigate their historical route between the Georges River and Nepean River.
The koala in the image came close to being killed last night. Local man Patrick Baric was on his way home from the gym in Campbelltown when he saw the animal in the middle of the road.
“We’ve seen enough of them die, I couldn’t keep driving,” he told Yahoo News Australia. “It was literally outside the front gate of that Figtree Hill development,” he added.
He initially just saw a “blur” on his left, but he realised the koala was on the white line at the edge of the road. “I just pulled up, chucked a Uey right away, but by the time I’d got back he was running back across the street,” he said.
“In the time I was there a semi pulling a tanker flew past, and heaps of cars. There was a point where he was literally sitting in the turning lane.”
Rescuers from WIRES who attended the scene on Wednesday night were continuing to monitor the animal when they spoke to Yahoo on Thursday afternoon. They hold ongoing concerns not just for him, but for all koalas in the area.
“Koalas are being hit by cars very regularly on Appin Road. Especially in the last 12 months, we've had a massive increase in the number of callers that have been killed or injured through car strikes,” the rescuer said.
More on koalas vs the housing crisis
Final concerning detail in koala image
The last detail causing alarm is a simple one — the lack of trees in the area. Critics of the LendLease plan argue the paddocks should be replanted with habitat, rather than flattened for housing.
They note koalas in NSW are listed as endangered, and will likely be extinct across the state before 2050 unless urgent action is taken to slow development in key habitat areas, according to a parliamentary inquiry.
Sydney’s southwest, where the koala was photographed is home to NSW’s only population of koalas not sick with chlamydia. While their population is expanding, their habitat corridors are being fragmented by new housing projects, and this is resulting in them coming into conflict with humans.
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