HARD TIMES AHEAD: Kajika, pictured in the care of Friends of the Koala, was injured during bush fires in the region late last year. PHOTO: Marc Stapelberg
HARD TIMES AHEAD: Kajika, pictured in the care of Friends of the Koala, was injured during bush fires in the region late last year. PHOTO: Marc Stapelberg

Fate of koala populations still uncertain

AFTER bush fires tore through the northern NSW region late last year, a koala expert said there is still hope for local koala populations to recover.

Central Queensland University koala expert Dr Alistair Melzer said he believes as catastrophic as the fires still burning around Australia are, he believes the koala species is not facing extinction.

Dr Melzer said: "While the bush fires have been devastating it doesn't mean the koala is functionally extinct".

Dr Melzer said the bush fires were of a different intensity in parts of northern NSW and Queensland, and some habitats are already recovering, giving surviving koalas a chance to expand from those "fire refuges".

"We have received accounts of healthy koalas surviving the fires in the Carnarvon Ranges in Central Queensland and in some northern NSW forests," he said.

"Those surviving koalas will have to adapt in these areas will they find enough food resources?"

He said the unreliability of population estimates made it difficult to calculate the actual numbers of koalas lost to the bushfires, but he said these losses compound those caused by the ongoing drought.

"It's more important to look at the impact on the extent of the habitat, rather than koala numbers," he said.

"Koalas mostly live in low-density areas and their population is extensively connected so their recovery will depend on how the habitat recovers."

Lismore-based organisation Friends of the Koala said local populations are still suffering the aftermath of the bush fires, with a lack of suitable eucalypt trees continuing to decimate survivors.

Friends of the Koala's veterinary nurse Marley Christian said the organisation is still getting calls trickling in from bush fire affected areas.

"Unfortunately due to the extensive area which was burnt, it's been very difficult to get in and try and find survivors," she said.

Ms Christian said there was no way to know the full number of koalas lost, and with fire and drought-related deaths continuing, it was hard to determine the future of local populations.

"It's too early for surveys yet, but I know we've lost a lot," she said.

Ms Christian said as koalas are dependent on eucalypt for both food and water, the lack of suitable leaf has caused many koalas to die from dehydration.

"Even without the fires, climate change has caused a huge issue for our koalas," she said.

"With this drought and little to no moisture in the few leaves still around, we've been finding extremely dehydrated koalas."

Ms Christian said in the past week alone, six koalas had died from dehydration.

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