'Soul destroying': Koala drowned in pool exposes wider problem

·News and Video Producer
·7-min read

A photograph of a suburban swimming pool gives a shocking insight into the plight of koalas living on the Gold Coast.

Shared by professional koala rescuer Amy Wregg to spread awareness about the vulnerable animals, the image, taken last year, shows a drowned koala lying under the water.

Ms Wregg determined the mother ran into trouble after trying to escape a male during mating season.

A koala drowned at the bottom of a pool.
Amy Wregg attended the scene after a koala drowned in a Gold Coast swimming pool. Source: WildCare

After falling from a tree, the koala found herself trapped in the backyard and unable to climb to safety due to a lack of trees.

Although her baby was rescued, finding a release site once he's grown up will be a challenge.

Close up of the rescued koala joey in blankets.
While the koala's joey survived, Ms Wregg says finding safe habitat to release it once it grows up will be difficult. Source: WildCare

'Soul destroying': Koala rescuer overwhelmed by call outs

Since Ms Wregg began working as a rescuer, her workload has dramatically increased.

In three months she has rescued 90 koalas while working for wildlife rescue group WIRES during the day, and an additional 30 while volunteering for WildCare at night.

“Personally it is pretty soul destroying, watching them decline so rapidly and feeling like we are hitting our heads against a wall,” Ms Wregg said.

“We rescue a sick koala which survives the disease or injury it has sustained, to be released back home which is already listed for development and translocation is not an option in older koalas."

The Queensland government has acknowledged there is a problem, with their independent koala expert panel advising “existing arrangements” were “not effectively protecting koalas”.

In response, the government developed a conservation strategy and vowed to work with councils across the region, backed by new regulations.

They say their five-year plan will address threats including fire, climate change and land clearing.

Left - a map of the Coomera Connector. Right - a koala in a warehouse.
The Coomera Connector will cut through koala habitat. Source: Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads / WildCare

Despite these rules preventing the interference with koala habitat, a number of exceptions allow for development in these areas, including “coordinated project(s)” and “public infrastructure”.

New motorway will cut through koala habitat

As the human population grows across the region, the state government has moved to reduce congestion on the M1 to Brisbane by building a new motorway, the Coomera Connecter, which will cut through koala habitat.

More than $1.5 billion has been allocated by the state and federal governments to fund stage one of the project.

A survey commissioned by the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR), who are developing the road, found that the suburb of Helensvale, which lies on the motorway’s path, is a “key regional biodiversity corridor”.

Left - a koala at the top of a spiked fence. Right - A koala up a bamboo fence, trying to escape a dog.
Ms Wregg has rescued 120 koalas over three months. Source: WildCare

A spokesperson for TMR advised a survey of habitat found 40 koalas living in the vicinity of stage one.

They said the protection of koalas is a "critical aspect" of road design and upgrades, and strategies to minimise impact on them include fencing, crossings and population monitoring.

TMR did not respond directly when Yahoo News asked how many koalas they predicted would be be struck by vehicles once the new road is complete.

'Jigsaw puzzle': Habitat carved up for housing

Systematic habitat clearing has left the landscape looking like a "like a jigsaw puzzle", according to Karina Waterman from Coomera Conservation Group.

Without green corridors connecting these wedges of habitat, koala populations become isolated.

“(Development) creates these islands and those island have become smaller... and then the issue then is for any wildlife that needs to disperse,” Ms Waterman said.

“They’re having to then navigate suburbia to try and find another island and these islands are becoming further apart.

“That’s when they encounter all of those things like dogs, cars, competition... and you can only fit so many koalas in an area, they’re quite territorial.

“When we get to breeding season and the young need to move on, there’s nowhere for them to go.”

Left - a koala with his head caught in a pool fence. Right - a koala up a tall metal post.
Ms Wregg's rescues have included a koala with its head caught in a pool fence, and another high up a pole. Source: WildCare

City of Gold Coast did not respond directly when asked if it would create new green corridors to link koala populations, but said they have restored approximately 80 hectares of habitat since 2013, and are purchasing "high priority" land in East Coomera.

'No future' for Gold Coast's fragmented koalas

Veteran koala researcher Dr Stephen Phillips believes the issue of habitat loss can be traced back to bad decisions made over a decade ago by the state government.

Having surveyed the area himself over many years, he argues the government were “spectacularly uninformed” about the abundance of wildlife when planning decisions were originally made.

Dr Phillips sees "no future" for koalas in the most fragmented or developed landscapes, and in "emergency situations" he believes they need to be moved to safe habitat.

“I see it as cruel and inhumane to let animals remain in those landscapes when better planning decisions could have had a better conservation outcome,” he said.

“These areas on the Gold Coast that have been identified for development will be developed and there’s nothing that can stop this happening."

Translocation remains controversial in Queensland, due to a perception that past measures have failed, however Dr Phillips believes the method can be "highly successful" when protocols are followed correctly.

The Queensland environment department acknowledged there are welfare risks involved with translocation, and said they are committed to developing a new policy in line with IUCN guidelines.

Left - a koala outside a petrol station. Right - A koala on a concrete hill near tram lines.
Koalas have been rescued by Ms Wregg at petrol stations and close to a tram line. Source: WildCare

Rescuing wildlife 'exasperating'

Having volunteered as a wildlife carer as a young man, Dr Phillips is aware that koala rescue takes a toll on rescuers as well.

“I know what that's like when you pick up animals and you put them back together again, and you release them back out and they come back to you a month later, either deceased or attacked,” he said.

“It sounds pretty savage, but I’m tired of all this bleating going on about what’s happening to koalas, because by-and-large it’s a government responsibility and we could fix it pretty quickly, but government won’t."

Roads cut through koala habitat in Coomera. Source: Getty
Roads cut through koala habitat in Coomera. Source: Getty

Dr Phillips is concerned carers are despairing because they are not seeing any improvement in koala welfare, and are only seeing sick and injured animals.

“There’ll come a day for all of them when all of a sudden there are no koalas left in the area that they care about," he said.

“So then they’ll go: what did I spend the last 20 years doing?"

Room for koalas and humans to coexist

Despite the ongoing stress of rescuing koalas, rescuer Ms Wregg is determined to fight for their survival in her town.

She believes that education and better planned developments are key to ensuring their future.

“I had a koala which I released the other night and it destroyed me,” she said.

“I released it and it ran into this bush where there’s a sold sign at a development site, so it’s all going to be gone.”

Ms Wregg said her phone is constantly ringing.

“I don’t even know what sleep is any more,” she said.

“My phone goes off every 20 minutes.”

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