The Canine Role in Near Extinct Koala Populations

Experts weigh banning dogs in areas with threatened koalas.
By JoAnna Lou, July 2016

We've written before about dogs that help conservation efforts for endangered species around the world. But in some south-east Queensland, Australia suburbs, dogs are hurting the at-risk koala population.

Following a mandate this month from Environment Minister Steven Miles, a group of koala experts—University of Queensland's Professor Jonathan Rhodes, Central Queensland's Dr. Alistair Melzer, and Dreamworld's Al Mucci--have been working on possible last-ditch solutions to stop koala extinction in Redlands, Pine Rivers, and other critical areas collectively known as the “Koala Coast.”

They found that past government policies to protect the koala's environment were not enough to manage the main threats--dogs (both domestic and wild), cars, disease and habitat loss.

One past study found that seventy percent of the 15,644 South East Queensland koalas that died between 1997 and 2011 were struck by cars, mauled by dogs, or killed by stress-related disease. As many as 80 percent of koalas have disappeared from the Koala Coast, causing some to fear that it's already too late.

According to the expert panel, koalas are found in small numbers, so the massive declines they've been seeing recently is likely to result in local extinctions for some populations within a small number of generations.

The group has come up with a number of potential solutions, one being a dog ban in these critical areas. I'm certainly not a koala expert, so I can't say if there might be a way to save koalas without eliminating dogs (also not all of the pups in question are pets, some are wild). But this issue does raise the importance of any of us with dogs to be aware of the effect our pets have on others and the world around us. I see this including everything from preventing our pets from jumping on strangers to not letting our pups run into bird nesting areas when playing on the beach. This is an important responsibility we have as our dogs' guardians.

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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