Straddie koalas almost disease free

ORPHAN JOEY: An orphaned koala joey clings on to a surrogate mum. They are vulnerable at this age.
ORPHAN JOEY: An orphaned koala joey clings on to a surrogate mum. They are vulnerable at this age.

A LONG term wildlife carer has warned that introducing mainland koalas to North Stradbroke Island as some sort of sanctuary would be an environmental disaster.

Jack Jackson of Wildcare Straddie said island koalas were genetically different to mainland animals.

They also had low levels of disease compared with mainland koalas and would have little chance of surviving a disease onslaught.

Mr Jackson has been treating and rehabilitating injured koalas and working with scientists and veterinarians on the island for 20 years.

CUDDLE ME UP: A young koala in care on North Stradbroke Island.

CUDDLE ME UP: A young koala in care on North Stradbroke Island.

He backed the warning by University of Queensland scientist Bill Ellis two weeks ago that the idea of koalas being left to reserves was wrong.

“If mainland koalas were brought over here, we’d end up with the same environmental disaster as has occurred on Kangaroo Island,’’ Mr Jackson said.

FAT AND HAPPY: A North Stradbroke Island koala rests up in the fork of a tree. The island koalas stick to a slender strip of land on the low-lying western shoreline.

FAT AND HAPPY: A North Stradbroke Island koala rests up in the fork of a tree. The island koalas stick to a slender strip of land on the low-lying western shoreline.

In the 1920s 18 koalas were introduced to the South Australian island because they were being shot out on the mainland. Disease-free and with nothing to dent the population, numbers sky-rocketed to about 30,000, with the arboreal animals killing trees. Koalas are now sterilised to reduce the population, save the bush and prevent them starving to death.

Mr Jackson said car strikes and dogs were regulating the Straddie koala population and he believed fire also had played a role in keeping numbers in check.

Mr Jackson said there was a small pocket of the devastating chlamydia in Straddie koalas but it was rarely seen as opposed to the mainland where it was common.

WILDLIFE CARER: Experienced carer Jack Jackson with a tiny joey on North Stradbroke Island.

WILDLIFE CARER: Experienced carer Jack Jackson with a tiny joey on North Stradbroke Island.

“It’s quite unusual over here,’’ he said. “We regularly see koalas reaching the end of their natural life. It’s really encouraging.

“A koala we rescued was 19 (judged by her teeth).’’

Mr Jackson said it was thought there was a steady population of about 1000 island koalas.

They lived on the island’s western side in trees whose roots were embedded in moist soils.

This reflected the situation on the Redlands mainland where the highest numbers were in good quality soils along the coastal strip.

“I think the trees getting good water are probably less toxic and more palatable but koalas are fussy eaters,’’ he said.

“We’ve somehow got to get the message out that it would be an environmental disaster to dump koalas on Straddie.’’