Goodbye Blinky Bill

Goodbye Blinky Bill

By Kristina Rosengren

The population of one of Australia’s most beloved icons is decreasing rapidly, despite concerted efforts from the Australian Reptile Park to boost numbers.

Australia has one of the highest land clearing rates in the world, contributing to koalas losing 80% of their habitat, and subsequently losing a third of their population in the last 20 years.

It is these figures which are driving the Australia reptile park’s koala captive breeding program.

Lulu is the first of nine joeys to emerge from the pouch this season, making 2017 the best year in history for the park’s breeding season.

Australian reptile park general manager Tim Faulkner said nine joeys is a new record, and proves that, if needed, Australia can establish a captive insurance program and ensure the species is not lost.

“This year has been the best for us because we’ve put a real concerted effort to koala husbandry and breeding. The koalas themselves only reproduce once a year with one joey, so it’s been quite a slow process to build.”

But Mr Faulkner said, it’s important to note – while their breeding program is influential, it is not enough to complement the dwindling wild population.

“We’re really proud to continually grow our population, but we are not the silver bullet. The fact that we can keep, breed and manage in an insurance population capacity, if and when needed, that’s a positive. But we are not out there stopping roads, and car strike and urban sprawl and habitat destruction. The importance of us increasing the population is the safeguard for the future, but it is not the wild solution,” he said.

Mr Faulkner believes if nothing is done to address the alarming decline, Australia’s cherished marsupial will be extinct by 2050.

“The Australian public needs to realise that one day there will be a wild Australia without koalas. That’s where we’re headed,” he said.

Koala numbers are concentrated on the east coast of Australia, where most of Australians live, leaving the animal vulnerable to car strike, dog attacks, loss of habitat and disease.

Currently, Koala numbers are predicted to be less than 80,000 – a far cry from the millions killed early last century for their fur.

Mr Faulkner is worried there might be a point where their numbers could fall so low, there will be little which can be done to save them.

“I hope that an organisation like ours, is not called upon to save the koala. That’s a worst case scenario. More needs to be done in the wild to preserve them and prevent that from happening,” he said.

In the meantime however, guests to the Australian Reptile Park can visit Lulu and Lillian in the koala enclosure during these school holidays.

 

Have a listen to Mr Faulkner speaking passionately about one of his favourite animals:

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