The koala is perhaps the most iconic Australian animal, and is a popular species with international visitors. According to very recent research by the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF), it has been estimated that koala-related tourism generates $3.2 billion in revenue annually across Australia and also generates around 30,000 jobs
Queensland is fortunate to have one of the largest natural populations of koalas in the wild. Koala populations are scattered across the eastern half of Queensland, as far west as Cunamulla, Quilpie, Longreach and Hughenden and as far north as Cooktown. However, the highest densities of koalas occur in the south east corner of the State.
Queensland once had millions of koalas but scientists estimate that up to 90% have perished since European settlement. Koalas were hunted for their fur during the late 1800s and early 1900s, with millions of skins exported during regulated harvests. The animals were declared protected in the state in 1906, although regulated harvests continued until 1927.
In 2004, the koala was listed as ‘vulnerable’ throughout the South East Queensland Bioregion under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992.
In 2012, the koala was listed as ‘vulnerable’ throughout Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Research conducted by AKF suggests the koala’s conservation status should be upgraded to ‘critically endangered’ under the EPBC Act across the South East Queensland Bioregion.
Koalas are suffering from the impacts of urban development and habitat clearing. The greatest threats to their survival are the destruction and fragmentation of their habitat, disease, intense bushfires, car strikes, dog attacks and climate change.
To indigenous people from eastern and southern Australia, the koala is valued as an important cultural symbol depicted in a number of creation stories and through its use as a totem. The word ‘koala’ is derived from the Dharug name ‘gula’ (meaning ‘no drink’) given to it by indigenous people in the eastern New South Wales area. Culturally-driven sustainable hunting practices meant that the koala population survived tens of thousands of years of use by indigenous people.
The koala is a highly specialised leaf-eater and browses on a small group of preferred food tree species, mainly eucalypts.