Eerie graves for 'most loved icons' popping up on Australian roads

·Environment Editor
·4-min read
  • Koala rescuer setting up memorials to animals killed on roads

  • $50m funding boost criticised by wildlife carers

  • Concern koalas on track to extinction in two states

As koalas continue to die on Queensland roads, an exhausted wildlife worker plans to start marking the position of each victim with a tiny cross.

With development continuing to displace koalas and other native animals across the Gold Coast, rescuer Amy Wregg hopes the memorials will drive awareness of their plight.

She has seen similar crosses in regional parts of Queensland to warn tourists about wildlife deaths, so she's planning to roll them out in urban areas where the nightly carnage can be just as extreme.

Left: cleared bushland. Right: a tiny koala cross by the side of the road.
Tiny crosses will soon mark the places koalas have been displaced and killed by development on the Gold Coast. Source: Supplied

With koala habitat continuing to disappear across the region, it’s often impossible to find displaced koalas new homes.

On Monday at around 10pm, Ms Wregg was called to assess a koala wandering through a recently cleared site, as it was vulnerable to serious injury or death.

“There are a lot more vehicle strikes during the night-time in areas in close proximity to clearing,” Ms Wregg told Yahoo News Australia.

“The other week, I did three rescues within six hours of each other, all hit by cars

“Sadly, all three were still alive when I got there.

“One had a skull fracture, another had a collapsed lung and was struggling to breathe, and the last one had massive puncture traumas.

“They were all taken to the emergency vet and euthanised.”

Koala rescuers slam $50m government funding boost

Over the weekend, the federal government announced a further $50 million in funding to “boost long term protection and recovery” of koalas.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison characterised the species as “one of Australia’s most loved and best recognised icons” and said the money will protect them into the future.

A Facebook image contrasting Mr Lonza holding a dead koala with the Prime Minister cuddling a live one.
Koala rescuer Ricardo Lonza (left) has ridiculed the government's funding announcement ahead of the election. Source: Facebook / Getty

While wildlife workers have generally welcomed the announcement, they said it will do little to stop koalas from going extinct across much of Queensland and NSW in the coming decades.

Ms Wregg characterised the funding as a “Band-Aid solution" which distracts from the primary issue koalas face — habitat loss.

“As long as it appears they're fixing the problem, then they don’t have to tackle the root cause of the problem,” she said.

“We need to be more proactive instead of reactive to the situation and focus on the reason why all of this is happening and that’s development.”

'I’ve never really held a koala': Rescuer slams PM's photo op

Over the border, in Campbelltown, NSW, another prominent koala volunteer Ricardo Lonza is sceptical about the timing of the Morrison government's funding announcement.

“The issue is to stop habitat clearing, but my issue is also them coming out with money just because it’s election time,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“It should have been done a lot sooner.”

Responding to the funding boost, Mr Lonza posted two contrasting koala pictures to social media.

The first is a staged photo taken at the announcement, featuring a grinning Prime Minister Morrison cuddling a koala. The other shows Mr Lonza, heartbroken, holding a dead koala in his arms.

“I’ve never really held a koala,” Mr Lonza said.

“The only koalas I get to hold are dead koalas, sadly.”

2050 koala extinction warning as development continues

Campbelltown is home to the only NSW koala population free of chlamydia - a disease which is devastating populations across the country.

Despite its significance, developments including the controversial Lend Lease Fig Tree Hill housing project continue to destroy habitat in the region.

Left - an injured koala in a cage. Right - a Gold Coast develoopment.
Koala rescuer Amy Wregg says many of her koala rescues on the Gold Coast occur near development sites. Source: Supplied

In 2020, Environment Minister Sussan Ley approved the expansion of Hanson Construction Materials’ gravel mine near Newcastle, despite the plans involving the destruction of key koala habitat.

Local mum Chantal Parslow Redman criticised the development being prioritised over the protection of koalas for generations to come.

“When will we start listening, and when will enough be enough?” she said at the time.

In a small but welcome win for the species, the NSW State Government spent an estimated $11 million to protect koalas from bulldozers in Port Macquarie.

The town’s koala hospital had warned its metropolitan koalas, which had survived the Black Summer bushfires, would have been decimated by development at the site.

In 2021, a NSW Parliamentary inquiry warned koalas will be extinct across the state by 2050 if urgent action is not taken to address land clearing.

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