As Australia’s population continues to climb towards 27 million, farms and bushland are being transformed into a sprawl of shiny new suburbs. It’s great news for developers who have speculated on rising land values and rezoning, and are now getting rich off their investments, but our iconic species of wildlife are disappearing from the landscape.
In just one generation of koalas, the number of fatalities from vehicle strikes around Sydney’s basin has doubled and in some places quintupled.
That’s particularly concerning for southwest Sydney because this region’s population is vitally important to safeguarding the future of koalas. To date, koalas living around Campbelltown remain the state’s only population that’s free of chlamydia, a disease likely introduced from cattle that’s leaving them sterile and horrifically ill elsewhere.
Koala vehicle strikes by the numbers
Despite the significance of koalas in this region, it’s where the majority of koala vehicle strikes have occurred — 86 per cent in the southwest local government area. Planned growth for the southwest is estimated to be over 31 per cent higher than the rest of Sydney and this could see the animals wiped out.
In Campbelltown and Wollondilly vehicle strikes have doubled in the last generation.
In Sutherland Shire and Wingecarribee they have increased five-fold.
The vehicle-strike research was conducted by ecological consultants Biolink, which found the “dramatic increase” in vehicle strikes around southwest Sydney coincided with both urban expansion and koala population growth in that area.
What it's like to be a koala rescuer in Sydney
Emma Meadows, a volunteer wildlife rescuer, shared a photo with Yahoo News Australia of a koala hit on busy Picton Road in Sydney’s western suburbs that she scraped off the asphalt just before Christmas.
“She was tiny. She would have only just left her mum,” she said. “But what broke my heart is that there was only one phone call about her, considering the number of cars and trucks that were whizzing by.”
Looking down at the girl, her face was smashed and blood smeared across the road, but Ms Meadows was determined that her body should be buried whole. “I picked up all of her little teeth, and her tongue, they were on the road. I found them and returned her completely. It was horrific.”
“She’s been one of many this season, it’s devastating,” she added.
Why koala advocates are concerned about development in Sydney
There have been a series of warnings indicating koalas in NSW face extinction:
Sydney Basin Koala Network commissioned the report amid growing concern that not enough is being done to protect koalas from development, even though habitat loss was singled out in the parliamentary inquiry as a key threat.
“We haven’t really seen anything change since Black Summer or since they’ve been listed as endangered,” spokesperson Stephanie Carrick said. “That (extinction) prediction seems like a reality and I wouldn't be surprised if it happened sooner than 2050.”
The network advocacy group maintains it is not anti-growth but wants development to occur in areas where endangered koalas don’t live.
While many Australians are aware of LendLease’s controversial Mount Gilead development on koala habitat near Campbelltown, it’s just one of many projects that threaten to impact the species.
Sydney Basin Koala Network has raised particular concerns about aspects of the NSW government’s Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan which will see 200,000 hectares of land developed around Wollondilly, Camden, Campbelltown, Liverpool, Fairfield, Penrith, Blacktown and Hawkesbury.
Its concerned areas zoned for housing do not need environmental assessment even when they’re being built on core koala habitat. That’s despite the government maintaining the project will deliver “housing, jobs and infrastructure while protecting important biodiversity”.
WIRES 'very concerned' about future of koalas
Sydney Basin Koala Network receives funding from WIRES, the country’s largest animal rescue network, whose CEO Leanne Taylor said she while she is “very concerned” about koalas as a species, she believes the community will step up and save them.
“The most obvious thing we need to do is preserve their habitat,” she said. “So we need to stop clearing and actively create more habitat. Without food and shelter then extinction can happen.”
Ms Taylor is also concerned about the ongoing stress many frontline volunteers face, as they respond to the escalating road deaths. “They’re seeing animals in the same hotspots being killed week after week and that can be traumatic because it’s hopeless,” she said.
“The other trauma is that they spend a lot of time, resources, energy, rehabilitating that animal, getting it back into a condition where it's healthy, and then they feel, concerned, worried, distressed, that they've got to potentially release it into an area that they know is not safe.”
Fear about the future of koalas are continuing to grow across Australia, here's where local advocates are concerned:
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