Population Trends and the Koala Conservation Debate
STEPHEN S. PHILLIPS*
Australian Koala Foundation, GPO Box 9899, Brisbane 4001, Australia
A critical issue affecting the long-term management of koalas is their perceived conservation status. Koalas still occur in many areas throughout their historical range, but numbers of animals are estimated to vary from <100,000 to at least one order of magnitude higher. Complex factors limit free-ranging koala populations, including food tree preferences, history of disturbance, and Chlamydia infection, all of which make longer-term population trends of many populations difficult to predict. Lack of consensus regarding the size and viability of remaining populations and regarding the extent of and reasons for decline, or overabundance in some instances, hinders the conservation task. A reappraisal of population trends suggests that, notwithstanding localized management issues in Victoria and South Australia, overall the species is "vulnerable" on the basis of current World Conservation Union criteria. Recommendations for more effective conservation of koalas include (1) acknowledging the legitimacy of differing perspectives, (2) recognizing the uncertainty and assumptions inherent in population estimates and trends, (3) applying greater rigor and developing better standards for monitoring population trends, and (4) being cautious in assigning con servation status to national, state, and regional populations.