Koalas in key NSW habitats have steadily declined with chlamydia proving a major problem for the furry creatures, new research has found.
The study by Western Sydney University's Dr Edward Narayan examined 12,543 records of wild koalas at rescue sites in Port Stephens, Port Macquarie and Lismore between 1989 to 2018 and found disease was the most common reason they were admitted to care.
"The long-term trends for these koala hotspots paint a picture of a steady decline in populations," Dr Narayan said in a statement.
"However, it's promising to see the majority of rescues - often undertaken by community groups and volunteers - have overwhelmingly resulted in the successful rehabilitation and release of koalas back into the environment."
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Dr Narayan said the analysis indicated that as disease increased in local populations, successful rehabilitation and release decreased.
"This trend highlights the growing pressure care and rescue groups and their resources are under," he said.
The study also found the age of a koala was a significant factor when it came to prognosis and recovery across all sites, while sex was not.
Dr Narayan said protecting the koalas' environment was the best way to support the work of rescue groups, stabilise the populations and reverse the trends identified.
"There is an urgent need to strengthen on-ground management, bushfire control regimes, environmental planning and governmental policy to reduce stressors impacting koalas on the North Coast and across the state."
The federal environment minister earlier this week approved a controversial quarry expansion in the Hunter that opponents say will destroy koala habitat, with the minister saying only "one or two" of the animals were found on the site.
Fifty-two hectares will be cleared to make way for the Brandy Hill Quarry extension in Port Stephens, after Environment Minister Sussan Ley twice delayed her decision as calls to reject the proposal grew.
Minister Ley said she had approved the project because the quarry company, Hanson, had promised to establish a 74-hectare koala habitat corridor, 22 hectares more than the venture would destroy.
"I recognise that the proposal has been subject to a high profile public campaign that has tapped into the genuine concerns we all share about koalas and bushfire impacted areas," Ms Ley said.
"This is not a region where bushfires have impacted local populations or habitat, the area to be cleared is not a site that is supporting resident breeding populations, and ... I have approved the proposal."
Hunter-based wildlife conservation scientist Ryan Witt released a report last month and told the Newcastle Heraldthere was a "likelihood of healthy males and females utilising that habitat".
But the author of the report used by the federal government to justify approving the expansion, Stephen Phillips, said "robust technique" used in the survey was "best practice".
Dive deeper: Port Stephens koalas and the Brandy Hill Quarry expansion:
- Brandy Hill Quarry expansion plans will destroy 50 hectares of koala habitat(January 15, 2020)
- Brandy Hill residents fear for koala population if quarry expands(June 30, 2020)
- Resident bid to save koalas from Brandy Hill Quarry expansion(August 21, 2020)
- Koala experts from University of Newcastle urge government to consider impact on habitat in expansion approval(September 3, 2020)
- Federal government under pressure to reject Brandy Hill quarry expansion(September 6, 2020)
- Brandy Hill Quarry expansion plan delayed, Brandy Hill and Seaham Action Group say proposal could disrupt koala habitat(September 7, 2020)
- Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley visits Brandy Hill and scene of koala controversy(September 30, 2020)
- Save Port Stephens Koalas vows to keep pressure on as Federal Environment Minister delays Brandy Hill quarry decision(October 8, 2020)
- Save Port Stephens Koalas campaign rolls on with Brandy Hill Hanson quarry decision delay(October 8, 2020)
- Koala habitat to be cleared for controversial Brandy Hill quarry extension, approved by Environment Minister Sussan Ley (October 27, 2020)
- Premier Gladys Berejiklian's gifts Port Macquarie with a Koala hospital expansion as Port Stephens gets heartbreak(October 28, 2020)
- Wildlife conservation scientist: Brandy Hill quarry expansion into koala habitat 'not a message that we want to be sending' (October 28, 2020)