Overview, Critical Assessment, and Conservation Implications of Koala Distribution and Abundance
ALISTAIR MELZER,* FRANK CARRICK,†, PETER MENKHORST,‡ DANIEL LUNNEY,§ AND BARBARA ST. JOHN**
†Koala Study Centre, Department of Zoology, University of Queensland, QLD 4072, Australia
‡Flora and Fauna Branch, Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, P.O. Box 41, East Melbourne 3002, Australia
§New South Wales, National Parks and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 1967, Hurstville, NSW 2220, Australia
**Department of Environment, Heritage and Aboriginal Affairs, P.O. Box 1047, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia
Regional and national surveys provide a broadscale description of the koala’s present distribution in Australia. A detailed understanding of its distribution is precluded, however, by past and continuing land clearing across large parts of the koala’s range. Koala population density increased in some regions during the late 1800s and then declined dramatically in the early 1900s. The decline was associated with habitat loss, hunting, disease, fire, and drought. Declines are continuing in Queensland and New South Wales. In contrast, dense koala populations in habitat isolates in Victoria and South Australia are managed to reduce population size and browse damage. Current understanding of koala distribution and abundance suggests that the species does not meet Australian criteria as endangered or vulnerable fauna. Its conservation status needs to be reviewed, however, in light of the extensive land clearing in New South Wales and Queensland since the last (1980s) broadscale surveys. Consequently, we recommend that broadacre clearing be curtailed in New South Wales and Queensland and that regular, comprehensive, standardized, national koala surveys be undertaken. Given the fragmentation of koala habitat and regional differences in the status of the koala, we recommended that studies on regional variation in the koala be intensified and that koala ecology in fragmented and naturally restricted habitats be developed. More generally, the National Koala Conservation Strategy should be implemented.