Weighing less than a bag of sugar, the Koala Joey Dhara passes a check.
She and her injured mother were rescued from a roadside in Sydney a month ago.
Slowly, the vet examines his teeth and eyes. As he lifts her up to check her legs and stomach, Dhara chirps briefly.
“She looks great,” said David Phalen, professor of wildlife, health and conservation at the University of Sydney, before bringing her back to his enclosure.
She’s still small enough to try to squeeze into her mother’s pocket, disappearing into a mass of soft gray fur.
The couple are among hundreds of injured koalas treated by Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organization, WIRES.
According to figures from the group, koala calls in New South Wales increased by 47% between 2017 and 2020.
Today, climate change and rapid urbanization are putting the entire species at risk in the state.
“This is unprecedented. We are at a critical point right now,” said Professor Phalen, “They say ‘death by a thousand cuts’ and that is what is happening every day. More trees are being cut, more areas are built, we have huge fires and all of these things will end up having major impacts not only on the koalas but on all the other animals that live in the same habitat as them. “
A recent investigation warned that koalas could become extinct in NSW by 2050, unless urgent action is taken.
The report of an all-stakeholder committee found that marsupials have been devastated by climate change, habitat loss and disease.
At least 5,000 koalas were killed in bushfires that ravaged the state in 2019 and 2020.
Tracey Maguire is one of the WIRES volunteers who answer calls when animals are in danger.
She says reports of koalas being attacked by dogs or struck on the road are increasingly common as humans encroach more on their habitat.
It’s a hot Tuesday afternoon when a call comes in from a local who spotted a koala near a busy road.
The appellant does not know if he was involved in an accident.
“The first point of what we do is assess to make sure the koala is fit and free of injury, blood or anything like that,” Tracey explains.
The young animal is leaning in the hollow of a tree as cars speed through the street below.
“Would he be able to climb a tree if he was injured?” I ask.
“Yes, they’ll climb a tree if they’re hurt… The adrenaline rushes up and they just want to get away from whatever hurt them. They also see us as predators,” she replies.
Using binoculars, Tracey searches for signs of distress.
After careful observation, she says she appears unharmed, but for safety reasons the team will patrol to make sure she stays clear of traffic.
I ask her what she thinks is the greatest threat to the local koala population.
“Human pressure encroaches on their habitats and the more development there is for housing, the less habitats they have. So they enter suburban areas and cross roads. Their habitats shrink for humans,” she said. .
Koalas have become a tense political issue in recent years after developers were granted permission to build houses in an area of western Sydney, near where the last disease-free and thriving colony lives. city.
The first stage concerns 1,700 new houses of the large real estate group Lendlease.
“We are concerned about the koala population in Campbelltown and understand that they are currently threatened by serious threats. We also understand that we can play a vital role in supporting population growth,” said Mark. Anderson, senior development management at Lendlease when I ask why they are building near the so called “koala corridor”.
He says the company hopes to double the number of koalas in the area by adding protections such as underpasses to help them cross the road, fences to keep them away from dogs and 220 hectares of protected habitat.
In June, the NSW government unveiled a $ 193 million fund to protect koalas over a five-year period.
Details on how the strategy will actually save the animals from extinction have yet to be revealed.
In a statement, the Ministry of Planning, Industry and Environment said protecting koalas was a priority.
“We are implementing all of the recommendations made by the Chief Scientist of New South Wales on the protection of Campbelltown koalas and their habitat. This includes establishing the Georges River Koala Reserve, securing additional areas of koala habitat, and installing koala exclusion fencing to protect koalas in urban areas and We are also ensuring that connectivity and koala corridors are maintained throughout the region, to allow koalas to feed, move and breed safely, ”a spokesperson added.
Despite the assurances, the activists are scathing.
“If you were to try to eliminate koalas in NSW, you would be doing exactly what the NSW government is doing. You would find a habitat where they survive and succeed and you would start declaring that as housing. also, and you would start wiping out that habitat, “says Saul Deane, activist at Save Sydney’s Koalas,” This is the area koalas need. We can live in other places, they can’t. “
The country’s highly regarded marsupials are in rapid decline, dropping to a high of around 57,000 across the country since 2018, according to figures from the Australian Koala Foundation.
Over the past three years, it is feared that New South Wales has lost 41% of its koala population.
Unhindered, pressures such as drought, disease and development could mean they disappear altogether.
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