How much can a koala bear?

We have just had a wonderful few days visiting Colin & Wendy Warren. They have a bush block in Cape Otway, just off the Cape Otway Lighthouse Road. They’ve had the bock for a few years, and have done some work clearing a small section. One day this will be the site of a holiday home, but at the moment, there’s a caravan, a bush shower, and a fireplace (see image), a rope swing and a drop dunny. Very simple, and very relaxing.

We have great memories of coming here with our entire family about 10 years ago. The block was much the same, a little less cleared than it is today. Our girls loved exploring, and playing with their cousins on the amazing rope swing. Occasionally we would hear a koala, and better still, see one.

One thing we noticed this time around was that there were plenty of koalas. Around the perimeter of Col’s cleared area, which might be 1000m2 or so, there were about 12 koalas visible. Now for many, this would be wonderful, and in one way, it is. Who would not be captivated with the sight of these furry little creatures, who are probably the little darlings of Australian tourism? What we saw, though, told another story. These koalas have actually reached plague proportions in this part of the world. Constant feeding on Manna Gum leaves, such high numbers are depleting the stands of Manna Gum in the vicinity of Col’s property. Several trees are dead, most are distressed, few are healthy.

I am no environmental scientist, of course, but my observations were that this was not just a problem on Col’s block. All through the vicinity the Manna Gum stands are under attack. On one excursion to Parker River, we could see tall Manna Gum skeletons standing above the tree canopy (see picture, above and to the left of the beach area). Is this further evidence of koala blight? Driving from Cols block in Otway Park through to Blanket Bay, the picture appeared consistent. These cute, furry little critters were doing a great deal of damage, and in some cases bringing irreversible change to the environment.

It’s interesting that even in places of wonderful natural beauty, you can still see that there’s something wrong with our world. Creation seems to groan here as much as anywhere else. How can something as cute and cuddly as a koala be the cause of such damage and degradation?

And what interventions, if any, should be undertaken? Is this just nature doing its stuff, and we let it take its course? It seems that the effect of this will eventually be the destruction not only of the local manna gum population, but also the koalas that feed from them. Who would want to lose both? What else could be done? People have started banding trees with a plastic/polymer jacket. This prevents any animals from climbing the banded trees. Or should there be a koala cull? Can we bring ourselves to cull this iconic Australian species? Sounds terrible, but this might ensure the survival of a healthy koala population, the manna gums as a food source, and a balanced environment. These are thorny questions that defy easy answers. Whatever happens from here on will cause grief and pain. For the environment in trauma, for the koala population, which will probably die out once they’ve depleted their food source, and for the people who see this terrible story unfolding every day.

Grace and peace,

Dave.

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