The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) is concerned about the future of koalas in NSW. Between 1990 and 2010 koala numbers have fallen by a third as a result of habitat loss, inbreeding, disease, predation and climate change.
The NPA's Samantha Newton points out that despite the fact that the koala is one of Australia's most commodified and iconic native animals "no national conservation reserve has been set aside to ensure the long-term protection of the species. This is even despite the koala being a globally recognised symbol of Australia and the second most recognised animal in the world after the Chinese Giant Panda."
She pointed out that the Chinese have created a national park covering 1 million hectares of bamboo forest habitat to protect their Giant Pandas. As well as protecting Pandas this is an important tourist attraction with direct financial benefit to nearby communities.
The economic value of wildlife to international tourism in Australia has been estimated at $3.5 billion per year. A 1997 estimate of the economic contribution of Koalas to our international tourism was $1.1 billion. So providing effective protection for this iconic species makes economic as well as ecological sense.
In NSW habitat loss caused by land clearing and urban development has led to the disappearance of Koalas from 75% of their former range.
"Even seemingly secure populations like those in the Port Stephens colony are at risk of extinction within decades unless their mortality rate is greatly reduced and their habitat connectivity is restored," Ms Newton said.
At the recent World Parks Congress in Sydney attended by conservation leaders from over 160 countries it was emphasised that the single most effective way to conserve biodiversity was the establishment of large and appropriately managed protected areas.
"We heard evidence from around the world that shows species occurring outside protected areas are sliding towards extinction twice as fast as those in reserves. We do not want that to happen to the Koala but currently over 80% of Koalas live outside protected areas.'"
The NPA is commencing a campaign to secure the future of the koala in a number of koala hotspots.
Newton said that the NPA's vision was to secure the future of the Koala by establishing "an internationally significant Koala reserve encompassing over 400,000 hectares of public land in the Coffs Harbour region and along with a series of reserves along the coast. We can achieve this by adding 200,000 hectares of state forest to existing reserves in the region. The new Koala reserve will protect two nationally recognised populations of Koalas which are estimated to contain almost 20% of NSW's remaining wild Koalas."
The NPA is calling for donations for the campaign to establish these reserves. (NPA Koala Reserve Appeal)