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Why the koala should not be culled, when the real problems are poor management and land degradation

Deborah Tabart

Australian Koala Foundation, 40 Charlotte Street, Brisbane Qld, 4000

INTRODUCTION

In this paper, I explore the notion of humans rationalising controlled koala populations in the name of conservation. Culling allows us to delude ourselves that we are solving management problems. We argue and rationalise that we are being generous to the animal by a clean, swift kill, rather than having to look at the real issues of our own land mismanagement. This paper explores the political, social and economic influences that are behind decisions for koala management in Australia today.

For decades now, a big storm has been brewing round the koala's management in Victoria and South Australia. The translocation program has been used to re-establish koala populations in those two States. It has also been used to avoid facing the problem of serious land degradation and clearing. Now the chickens (or rather the koalas) have come home to roost. The fragments of bush that are left cannot cope and there's nowhere else to put them. Culling and artificial fertility control have been suggested as politically expedient solutions. But at no time has any government seriously considered tackling the root of the problem. 

Governments have used 'translocation', 'culling' and 'artificial fertility control' as huge public relations exercises. Up until now they had somewhere to dump island overflows of koalas. Now they don't. There's nowhere left. It's crunch time.

Since the days of the fur trade, the koala has been used by politicians as a tool to achieve their political objectives. We understand all too well that the koala can be exploited to make money. In the old days it was for fur and now it is for tourism. To get away with condoning such exploitation, politicians imply they have a purist approach to koala management. They have even been known to use scientists as pawns in their political games.

Instead of focusing on too many koalas, we should be addressing the very serious problems of land degradation and unsustainable land-use practices. If we cull or control fertility as· a knee-jerk reaction, the underlying problems will not go away. Unless good peer reviewed science dictates solutions to the whole problem, nothing will be resolved. We'll just act out the tragedy.

The following wise words are from Dr Ronald Laing in his book The Politics of Experience: 
"Human beings seem to have an almost unlimited capacity to deceive themselves into taking their own lies for truth. The double action of destroying ourselves with the one hand and calling this love with the other, is a sleight of hand we can marvel at...by such mystification, we achieve and sustain our adjustment, our adaptation."