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Rescuer predicts 'inevitable extinction' of Gold Coast koalas

Yahoo News Australia spent a week filming with rescuer Amy Wregg as she drove thousands of kilometres rescuing wildlife.

Gold Coast koala advocates have conceded that despite their tireless efforts, the endangered marsupials will likely be extinct across the region well before 2050.

Professional rescuer Amy Wregg has long found it hard to sleep, knowing that while she is resting wildlife will be attacked by dogs or hit by cars.

When Yahoo News Australia began filming with her in September, she was hopeful the species could be saved, but new roads, houses and shopping centres are gobbling up habitat and driving them into the path of dogs, cars and disease.

“I’m broken,” she conceded on the phone last week, adding that extinction feels inevitable. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when."

Left - Amy Wregg at night. Right - Two koalas fighting in a tree on the Gold Coast.
Amy Wregg (left) believes koalas will be extinct on the Gold Coast before 2050. Source: Michael Dahlstrom/Yahoo

Since September Ms Wregg has completed 460 wildlife rescues for WIRES alone, driving approximately 5000km a week, walking 8000 steps a day. At night she volunteers for local conservation group WildCare, adding even more rescues to her tally.

Footage reveals heartbreak of koala demise on Gold Coast

There were signs when we filmed with Ms Wregg last year the future wasn't looking bright for koalas and they were running out of habitat. On our last day together, she stopped by the side of the road, picked up her phone and shared a Facebook memory she'd received that morning.

"A few years ago we were doing a koala rescue in this exact location," she said, pointing to a picture of a koala in a tree by the roadside. "Now the trees are completely gone."

Ms Wregg is struggling emotionally after continuing to witness the brutal impact of development on wildlife and its habitat. She is now receiving professional help, but even her psychologist is struggling to process the horrific stories of wildlife carnage. “She was like: Oh my God, don’t talk to me about it," Ms Wregg revealed.

Disease adding pressure on koalas surviving in suburbs

Despite koalas being listed as endangered across NSW, Queensland and ACT in 2022, displacement has not slowed down. Exacerbating the problem is ongoing development, particularly around the suburb of Coomera which has been turned from prime koala habitat to a desert of housing and shopping centres in just 10 years.

Karina Waterman is a volunteer koala rescuer and heads local collective Coomera Conservation Group. She has observed that even in areas where development is no longer ongoing, like in Coomera Waters, frontline workers are seeing unprecedented rates of disease.

"I'm at a point where I'm quite worried about their future, it's probably the most worried I've ever been," she said. "Even if we stopped development right now, I would still be extremely scared for their future, and it's not a good feeling."

Over her decade of campaigning, she has long resisted admitting she's lost hope for the species' survival on the Gold Coast, fearing this would give developers and government an excuse not to try and protect them, but like Amy her opinion is changing.

“I’ve said I’m worried before, but this is the first time I’ve said I feel defeatist. It’s frightening for me to say it,” she said.

Gold Coast council responds to koala displacement

The City of Gold Coast did not respond directly to questions from Yahoo News Australia about koala extinction fears, but said it is "committed to managing and protecting the long-term survival of koalas" through its Koala Conservation Plan.

Amy Wregg caries a kangaroo through flood waters. She's wearing hi-vis. The image shows her back. The kangaroo is looking at the camera over her shoulder.
Amy Wregg caries a kangaroo with broken limbs from a car crash through flood waters. Source: Michael Dahlstrom/Yahoo

In a statement, a spokesperson said the city's efforts include:

  • Restoring habitat through environmental offsets

  • Acquiring land to connect habitat through corridors

  • Supporting feed plantations

  • Working to reduce disease and road fatalities

"The Koala Conservation Plan will continue to be informed by up-to-date koala population health research and sightings data and the ongoing engagement of the community," it said.

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