Photo credit: Rennett Stowe/
Though koalas are not considered threatened by the IUCN or the Australian government, populations across the species native range have been in decline for years. The situation in New South Wales, in particular, is severe.
In one town—Gunnedah—the koala population is actually increasing. This anomaly, one recent study suggests, may provide clues for protection the species across Australia.Widespread hunting in the early part of the 20th century brought the koala to the brink of extinction. Since 1927, bans on hunting and conservation efforts have allowed the species to rebuild some populations, but deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and disease have slowed this growth and led to further declines in some places.
In Gunnedah, a massive tree-planting campaign through the 1990s appears to have created an ideal habitat for koalas—and the population there has climbed as a result.
Mathew Crowther, who is leading a country-wide study of koalas, explained:
We were interested in studying the koalas in Gunnedah because we wanted to work out why the population was increasing in this particular place...we knew a massive tree planting effort had taken place in the 1990s, so we wanted to know if that campaign had led to an increase in koalas and whether we could use this information to guide areas of koala decline.
Prior to this study, it was thought that koalas needed old-growth eucalyptus forests to thrive. The young trees of Gunnedah have shown that this is not the case and furthermore, that consolidated stands of trees are essential to koala conservation.
"The fact that the koalas in Gunnedah are using trees planted in the 1990s," Crowther said, "means that simply planting the right trees could expand their habitat and mitigate some of the current problems we are seeing with koalas living in such fragmented patches of forest."
Read more about koalas:
Lucky Koala Hit By Car Walks Away Without a Scratch
Koalas Extinct in 30 Years as Climate Change, Habitat Loss, Sexually Transmitted Disease Take Their Toll
Millions of Australian Wildlife Devastated by Weather Extremes