Deakin's scientist Dr Desley Whisson responds to reports about the management of koala populations in Victoria

Media release
04 March 2015
Transcript of interview with Deakin University School of Life and Environmental Sciences lecturer Dr Desley Whisson

Transcript of interview with Deakin University School of Life and Environmental Sciences lecturer Dr Desley Whisson

TOPIC: Reports about the humane management of koala populations in Victoria

QUESTION: How did this culling process take place?

DEAKIN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LIFE AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES LECTURER DR DESLEY WHISSON: First of all, I'd like to just address some of the comments that have been made in the media today.

It wasn't a secret killing of koalas at all.

In fact, vets set up their station in a public place, so people could see what was happening and the media were even aware of it at that particular time.

And it wasn't culling. Culling of koalas is illegal in Australia.

It was euthanasia of very sick animals. And for the most part these animals were just being scooped off the ground, they were starving – they had no food.

So it was a very humane way of putting them out of their misery.

QUESTION: Why don't they have food? What's happening in that area?

DR WHISSON: Koalas were relocated to Cape Otway in the 1980s, they were moved from French Island.

We've got a very genetically poor community of koalas there. They're amongst a food source they absolutely love – Manna Gum.

Manna Gum is highly nutritious for them, lox in toxins and high in moisture.

And the koalas have concentrated their feeding in that particular habitat type, there's no fire, there's no natural predators in that system – so there's been no natural checks on their population growth.

Over time we've seen that population increase to a point where the trees cannot tolerate that browsing pressure any longer, so the koalas then are forced to either move to find new food resources or they stay there and end up starving.

QUESTION: While you have euthanased those koalas who are starving and extremely sick, there are still some that are left there, is this vicious cycle? Will that eventually happen to all the koalas who remain in the area?

DR WHISSON: Yes, without intervention or a long-term management plan that certainly will happen.

What I'm hoping is that the government will invest in a long-term strategy that looks at habitat protection, revegetation as well as a fertility control program for koalas in that area.

QUESTION: Do you think there's a possibility of a program like that coming into existence?

DR WHISSON: It has come into existence in other areas. South Australia has had a history of koala management.

Kangaroo Island has had major investment in koala management.

In Victoria, there's investment in koala management at Mount Eccles and a number of the islands as well, so it's certainly something that could happen – yes.

QUESTION: Is there any possibility of relocating the koalas that are there, or is that just not something that's possible?

DR WHISSON: Relocating the koalas is actually a pretty inhumane way of dealing with this problem. There's very few places, in fact no places that I'm aware of, that you could put koalas into.

And at the time of this this issue in 2013 there could've been anywhere between 5000 and 8000 koalas in that area.

So that's a lot of koalas to move and potentially a lot of koalas that are going to die as a result of that process.

So it's inhumane to do that; it was much better to look at euthanising sick koalas at the time.

QUESTION: I know you've mentioned that culling is illegal but does something need to change as far as that's concerned so we don't see koalas are getting to the stage where they're starving to death?

DR WHISSON: I think it's really important for our Commonwealth Government and State Government to consider some kind of lethal management of these types of koala populations.

And I would say anything that could be done in a very controlled way – I'm not suggesting landholders should be given guns to go and shoot koalas – what needs to happen is assessment of populations, prediction of what those populations are going to do in the future and management to thin those pops out to make it a sustainable pop.

QUESTION: The report is today that there is 700 koalas - is that correct?

DR WHISSON: I don't know the exact numbers at the time, it would have been in the order of that.

A lot of koalas were released back into the habitat that at the time probably couldn't sustain them.

But it would have been several hundred koalas easily that would've been euthanized, but for every one of those koalas there would have been at least another two or three that would've died without that intervention.

So I think it was a fantastic thing that the Government did - actually putting some resources into an animal welfare issue.

QUESTION: And if everything remains the same, if there's no management program implemented, how often will the Government have to intervene in this way?

DR WHISSON: Well in the long term they won't have to intervene anymore because there won't be any manna gum left, there won't be any koalas left to manage.


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