FURRY FRIENDS: Lorraine Vass is stepping down from the leadership of Friends of the Koala after 15 years.
FURRY FRIENDS: Lorraine Vass is stepping down from the leadership of Friends of the Koala after 15 years. Cathy Adams

Expert confident that koalas will survive

AFTER 15 years as president of Friends of the Koala, Lorraine Vass believes the Aussie icon will survive in the wild, despite the many challenges it faces due to human activities.

Its distribution in the future may be more limited than now but, with an evolutionary history that dates back at least 30 million years, she says the koala is a survivor.

"Galvanising sufficient political will to properly protect and recover our koala populations is problematic but not impossible," Lorraine says.

"After all, it was the US government's ban on the importation of koala skins in 1930 and the Australian Government's prohibition on the export of koalas and koala products three years later that helped to ensure koala survival from the horrendous 'open seasons' of the previous decade.

"Perhaps even more worrying is the impact of climate change. 

"Koalas have very limited capability to adapt to rapid, human-induced climate change.

"They are particularly vulnerable to the effects of elevated CO2 levels on plant nutritional quality and will need to cope with increasingly nutrient-poor and tannin-rich eucalyptus leaves. 

"Extreme weather events, higher temperatures, droughts and bushfires will also take their toll."

Overall, the koala's situation in the Northern Rivers remains "fragile", according to Lorraine.

"The impacts of urbanisation and economically driven activities are increasing so habitat is continually degraded, fragmented and destroyed," she said.

"On the other hand, people's awareness has grown.

"Local councils across our region are more involved in koala recovery and there's more government money, by way of competitive grants, available for on-ground habitat enhancement, community-engagement and research."

Lorraine will step down from the leadership of Lismore-based Friends of the Koala on June 30.

"I will continue to mentor for as long as it takes," she says.

"I'll also contribute to our advocacy and policy reform work, and continue with a few regional projects in which I've been involved."

Lorraine says habitat destruction must be stopped to give the koala a fighting chance.

"We also need to improve our management of disease in koalas, our driving behaviour and our dogs, not to mention ensuring that logging operations on private and public land are kept out of high koala use areas," she says.

"When I started in 2000 we brought into care around 80 to 100 koalas annually.

"In recent years it's been over 300 and in the present reporting year the number is nearer to an extraordinary 400 koalas."

Friends of the Koala operates a 24/7 rescue hotline, responds to rescues, cares for koalas and collects leaf to feed them.

"We also need people to respond quickly to situations where koalas are clearly at risk or if they are unsure whether a koala is okay by ringing the hotline (0266221233) and lodging koala sightings on our new online sighting tool at www.friendsofthekoala.org," Lorraine said.

"People don't have to get involved in animal care - they can plant koala food trees to enhance existing corridors or to provide plantations for harvesting to feed koalas in care. "There are also opportunities to participate in nursery work, outreach and community education, political advocacy, submission writing, promotion, preparing funding applications, the group's governance and in many other areas."

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