Starving koalas on Victoria’s Raymond Island a sign of significant food shortage, overpopulation


Updated

July 31, 2018 06:38:19

Growing numbers of starving koalas are being handed in to wildlife carers on a small island in Victoria’s east.

Raymond Island, in the Gippsland Lakes, is home to 250 koalas, but too many koalas, dry conditions and more people living on the island are putting pressure on food availability.

Raymond Island Koala and Wildlife Shelter founder Susie Pulis said emaciated koalas were being handed in to her for care on a daily basis, and most died within 24 hours.

“I haven’t had any survivors in the last few weeks. They’re all starving to death,” Ms Pulis said.

“You never get used to it. Especially at the moment I’m seeing an increase in the number of young koalas.

“We always saw a lot of older koalas coming in starving, which I would expect to see, but not as many young koalas.”

The human population on Raymond Island has grown more than 14 per cent in the past decade, according to the 2016 census, with 29 new dwellings built on the island during that time.

Ms Pulis said residents clearing trees for bushfire protection were exacerbating the problem of food shortages for koalas.

She has called for more protection for habitat trees.

“There is an overpopulation of koalas on Raymond Island, we do know that,” Ms Pulis said.

“Every leaf counts, every tree counts. We need that habitat not only for food source, but for their territory and rest trees, to give them somewhere to live.”

Koala management program ongoing

Koalas were introduced onto the island in the 1950s and it has become a hotspot for tourists hoping to spot one of the iconic marsupials.

The state’s peak tourism body, Visit Victoria, described the island as drawing “nature lovers for some of the best koala-spotting around”.

A survey in 2004 revealed the island had 650 koalas, but experts estimate it can sustainably support 50.

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) runs the island’s koala management program.

DELWP natural environments program regional manager Ryan Incoll said people should alert the department if they were finding sick or starving koalas.

“We’re certainly concerned if there are reports of koalas starving,” Mr Incoll said.

“We do have an active program on Raymond Island to manage the koalas there and that’s been going on since about 2004.

“The program’s been running becasue there were serious sorts of concerns both about koala welfare and also the condition of the natural environments on Raymond Island.

“A program of health checks, sterilisations and at times translocations of koalas off the island has helped to reduce that.”

The annual management program was cancelled last year because the ferry connecting the island to the mainland was being repaired.

“We’re confident if we’re able to do it again in November, there won’t be any sort of major impacts on the populations and the health issues,” Mr Incoll said.

“The information we’ve got at the moment wouldn’t suggest we need to go in any sooner.”

Island koalas face extra pressure for food

Federation University associate professor of conservation biology Wendy Wright said island populations faced different pressures than animals that could move freely in the environment.

“What can happen on an island where the population is increasing and there’s nowhere for them to disperse, we can see that they basically start to eat themselves out of house and home,” Associate Professor Wright said.

“All of the resources on the island are being used up by the growing population of animals, to the point where the animals start starving because they’re really competing with each other for the food.

“We also see that it happens in islands of habitat that are isolated by cleared agricultural areas.

“We’ve seen that down in the Otways, where little fragments of eucalypts are decimated by the resident koala population, and again we’ve had to intervene there as well.”

Associate Professor Wright said solutions were difficult.

“In a normal environment the animals would move away and disperse,” she said.

“On an island like this we have to help, we have to intervene and do something, otherwise we see unfortunate incidences of starvation and animal welfare issues.

“The ways that we can intervene are to stop the increase of population somehow, and that might be with some sort of fertility control, or just reduce the population and that might be by removing animals.”

Topics:

environmental-management,

animals,

animal-welfare,

raymond-island-3880,

wongarra-3221

First posted

July 31, 2018 06:37:12



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