Koalas are endangered in Australia, but the government is choosing roads over their lives.
A new highway that was recently approved by the Australian environment minister Josh Frydenburg is risking the lives of hundreds of koalas for the sake of transportation efficiency and connection.
The koalas are officially listed as “vulnerable,” but their population varies by each region, and in some areas, they are critically endangered.
The controversial highway is set to cover 96 miles as an upgrade to the Pacific Highway that connects the towns of Woolgooga and Ballina. However, only an eight-mile expanse is being petitioned against, as it cuts through a habitat vital for the Ballina koalas.
Construction itself will cause half of the koala’s food trees to be destroyed, giving them less to survive off of, and this doesn’t even factor in their emotional well-being throughout the process. Rebecca Thompson-Jones, a spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told The Huffington Post,
“Koalas often get panicked and stressed and will not move, sometimes dying as a result of the stress or getting ill or starving. Some of these koalas will be separated from their social group of koalas and have to find each other.”
A Population Viability Study conducted in July 2014 by wildlife ecologist Stephen Phillips concluded that if the highway were built as planned, the population of Ballina koalas would be completely extinct in 20-25 years.
This coincides with the fact that the stress of the construction and habitat loss could prevent the koalas from reproducing and would weaken their immune systems, making them more susceptible to illnesses like retrovirus, chlamydia, and pneumonia. Since they would also need to search for their family and new trees, being on the ground makes them vulnerable to predators.
Roads and Maritime Services, who is in charge of the highway project, stated earlier in the year that their research indicated that the loss of koalas would amount to less than 10 percent, and added that their population is dying, with or without the road. RMS is making small efforts to offset the damage to the habitat and koalas, such as fencing to keep them off the roadways, a wildlife crossing path, and a planting of revegetation nearby.
However, activists say this is not enough to ensure the koalas’ survival, since the highly-territorial animals will not move to the revegetated area, which would take four to seven years to even be edible and livable for the small bears. None of the plans address the stress of the koalas, and they don’t accommodate the other animals living in the area that will also be affected.
“Section 10 of the highway is currently known to be home to over 30 state and-or nationally threatened species,” Thompson-Jones said.
If the road continues as planned, koalas and other local wildlife will be at serious risk just so that humans can more efficiently travel between towns.
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