Plea for government to spend $11m to save family of koalas

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Koalas surviving on the urban fringes of a NSW town could be lost if a new development proceeds, conservationists warn.

The asking price of more than $11 million for a 200-hectare property near Port Macquarie could be beyond what the government is willing to pay to maintain the koala habitat. 

Over 22,000 people believe the state should acquire the land, signing petitions calling on NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean to help secure the Lake Innes property and transform it into national park.

Koala advocates are calling for a 200 hectare site to be protected from development. Source: Supplied
Koala advocates are calling for a 200-hectare site to be protected from development. Source: Supplied
Rescuer Kai Wild (left) says koalas are facing increased risk from development. Source: Supplied
Rescuer Kai Wild (left) says koalas are facing increased risk from development. Source: Supplied

One of the locals behind the campaign to save the wilderness from being sold to developers is wildlife rescuer and author of The 99th Koala, Kai Wild.

While the property was withdrawn from sale last month, Mr Wild believes public ownership of the site will help ensure remains valuable koala habitat into the future. 

“(If the development goes ahead), for a while we’ll see more car hits, and more dog attacks, and all of the other impacts of displacement,” he told Yahoo News.

“Then we'll see no more koalas.”

Warning development across NSW and Queensland threatening future of koalas

Mr Wild warns if the state government doesn't do more to protect the region's habitat, Port Macquarie's koala population could suffer a fate similar to those living in a small town 250km away.

He's referring to Gunnedah which once famously touted itself as the ‘koala capital of the world’, but the animals are now a rare site and the slogan has been sidelined.

Protecting the area has received significant local support from both the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council and state Liberal member Leslie Williams. 

A koala being treated at the Koala Hospital Port Macquarie. Source: Getty
Port Macquarie's koalas were thrust into the international spotlight during the Black Summer bushfires. Source: Getty

Koala Hospital Port Macquarie's Sue Ashton has also voiced concern about developing the site, telling local media in September doing so would be “absolutely devastating”.

"We will lose the urban koala population in Port Macquarie, which is the biggest wild koala population on the east coast of Australia," she said.

Government admits it must 'do a lot better' protecting koalas

Port Macquarie’s koalas were thrust into the global media spotlight during the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires.

The intense blazes, fuelled by climate change, wiped out approximately one third of koalas in South East Queensland and NSW, leading them to be federally listed as vulnerable to extinction in those two states and the ACT.

Last month Mr Kean said NSW needs “to do a lot better” in protecting koalas and announced $193 million in new funding to support the species.

While the government say they're working towards a zero extinction target for wildlife living in national parks, concern remains about koalas living in unprotected regions where development could impinge on their habitat.

The growing list of projects conservationists warn will impact the species in NSW include expansion of Hanson Australia’s gravel mine in Port Stephens, and construction of the 1700-home Figtree Hill estate by LendLease near Campbelltown.

Further north, in South East Queensland, the state government is planning to demolish koala habitat to build the new Coomera Connector which they hope will reduce traffic congestion.

Minister Kean's office declined to respond to questions from Yahoo News about calls to protect the Port Macquarie site.

Koala joey dies despite around-the-clock care

“Incredibly frustrating” is how Mr Wild describes the situation for koalas.

As a rescuer, he’s seen the “increased risk” the animals face as they attempt to navigate increasingly fragmented habitat.

Instead of living a lazy life up a gumtree, all too often they’re sitting in introduced species like frangipanis, running down roads, or hiding from dogs in people’s backyards.

A koala joey (centre, right) was given around-the-clock care after it's mother (left) was hit by a car and died. Source: Supplied
A koala joey (centre, right) was given around-the-clock care after it's mother (left) was hit by a car and died. Source: Supplied

It’s clear volunteering to protect koalas is taking an emotional toll on Mr Wild as he recalls his desperate attempt to save a joey whose mother was killed in June.

“I had to keep this little joey warm with my own body heat overnight during the winter until I could get it to a carer the next day,” he said.

“The joey was looked after for about three months with constant care every day, but I guess even with the best care it’s not the same as having its own mum and it suddenly passed away.

“It's extremely hard when we’re seeing people put in all this effort, and then opportunities to conserve habitat aren’t being embraced.”

National Parks and Wildlife Service was been approached for comment but did not respond before deadline. 

Attempts have been made to contact the landholder. 

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