Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Environment and Communications References Committee
01/08/2011
Status, health and sustainability of Australia's koala population

GREAR, Mr Brenton, Director, Natural and Cultural Resources, Department of Environment and Natural Resources

MENKHORST, Mr Peter, Department of Sustainability and Environment

ACTING CHAIR: I welcome representatives from the South Australian Department of the Environment and Natural Resources and the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment. Thank you for coming. As departmental officers you will not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy; however, this does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policy or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. The committee has received the South Australian government's submission as submission No. 77 and we have now received the submission from the state of Victoria. It does not yet have a number, but it will be given one.

Mr Grear : We do not have any amendments or additions to the submission that we made.

Mr Menkhorst : We do not have any amendments to the submission of the Department of Sustainability and Environment in Victoria. I apologise for its lateness. I learned literally 10 minutes ago that I had approval to sit here.

ACTING CHAIR: We thank you for coming at such short notice. I will ask you first, Mr Grear, if would you like to make a brief opening statement.

Mr Grear : Yes, I would. Firstly I would like to thank the senators and the Australian government for this opportunity to address the inquiry. The South Australian government recognises the koala's national status as an Australian icon species and that key subpopulations of koalas in New South Wales and Queensland are declining in number. However, in South Australia, koalas are, for the most part, an introduced species. They are considered abundant, and in some areas their numbers are steadily increasing. Whilst the South Australian government is supportive of measures being made to protect the species on a national level, any considerations given to listing koalas under the EPBC Act must take into account the need to actively manage overabundant populations of koalas, where they occur, in order to minimise the negative impacts these populations may have on broader ecological communities and on the welfare of the koalas themselves. In South Australia the koala is protected under the National Parks and Wild Life Act 1972. That allows for the protection of habitat and wildlife. However, as a reflection of increasing populations, the koala was delisted as 'rare' under this act in 2008.

As stated in the department's submission to this inquiry, prior to European settlement, koalas were only found in the south-east of the state and were believed to have become locally extinct by about 1920, due to hunting. Between 1920 and 1970, koalas, most likely of Victorian provenance, were introduced to a number of areas in South Australia, including Kangaroo Island, the Adelaide Hills, the Eyre Peninsula and the Riverland. Due to their origin, the level of genetic variation in South Australian koala populations is significantly lower than that found in other states.

The KI Koala Management Program was initiated in 1997, and that was to conserve riparian ecosystems through reducing the overabundant koala densities to more sustainable levels. The program has successfully reduced koala numbers on the island. The population of koalas on Kangaroo Island has dropped from an estimated 27,000 in 2001 to 13,000 in 2010. Also, in the last five years, there have been thousands of trees planted, particularly in the riverine areas, to replace those that were lost through koala overbrowsing.

In the Mount Lofty Ranges, there has been an increase in the number of sightings of koalas, and they are frequently seen in trees and elsewhere around suburban Adelaide. The South Australian government encourages a 'living with wildlife' approach to managing impacts caused by, and to promote positive attitudes to, koalas. So, in response to the growing number of koalas living in and around urban areas, we have developed a new koala intervention policy framework just recently. This policy guides the actions which may be taken to intervene when koalas are posing a safety hazard to members of the public, are in dangerous situations or show clear signs of sickness or injury. As a result of this policy, for the first time in South Australia suitably qualified and experienced wildlife rehabilitators are assisting in the recovery, rehabilitation and release of sick, injured or orphaned koalas across the state.

Finally, the government is developing a state-wide koala management strategy, and this aims to conserve and manage sustainable populations of koalas throughout their natural and their introduced ranges. We expect to have the strategy completed by June 2013.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. Mr Menkhorst, do you want to make a statement?

Mr Menkhorst : Firstly I would like to table this submission on behalf of the Victorian government.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. Your submission is accepted.

Mr Menkhorst : I will briefly summarise some points in the submission under each of the terms of reference of the inquiry. First of all, the iconic status of the koala. The koala has achieved iconic status as a very recognisable and well-known Australian faunal species. However, the relevance of that to conservation attention the species should receive is questionable. Victorian government policy is to focus conservation attention and resources where they are likely to achieve the best conservation benefit. This includes a greater focus on understanding the ecological processes that sustain species and ecosystems and working to minimise loss of biodiversity as a whole while also maximising the functionality of ecosystems. The implication of that policy stance for the koala is to emphasise management of overbrowsing to protect vegetation communities and their associated animal communities from damage.

We have talked a bit about the history of koala management in Victoria. It is unique and has been quite well documented. I will table a couple of documents, if I may, that detail that history.

ACTING CHAIR: Those two documents you want the table are on the history?

Mr Menkhorst : One is on the history and the other one is the Victorian koala policy. The conservation status of the koala in Victoria is largely a result of the management history which has continued since the 1920s. This needs to be clearly understood when assessing priorities for koala management in this state. Koalas are widespread in lowland and foothill forests across southern, central and north-east Victoria where the annual rainfall exceeds about 500 millimetres. Population densities vary enormously with habitat quality. In some areas population densities are unsustainably high and serious ecological degradation is caused by koalas overbrowsing their preferred food tree species. The ecological consequences of that can include the temporary or permanent loss or degradation of local flora and fauna communities.

High density but small populations on French Island, Raymond Island and Tower Hill State Game Reserve are now being controlled by very intensive and expensive programs of mass contraception using modified human contraceptive implants adapted for the koala through research conducted by DSE and Parks Victoria. The efficacy of this approach in the control of large-scale overbrowsing such as that occurring at Mount Eccles National Park and in the Otway Ranges is not yet clear but would require very high levels of resourcing. At Mount Eccles National Park there are more than 10,000 koalas. I do not have the latest figures for the number of female koalas that have been contracepted but it is several thousand and the population is declining slowly. But it has taken a massive effort and huge amount of resources and we are not certain that those resources will continue to be available.

In contrast, koalas persist at low densities of less than one animal per hectare in drier inland habitats, for example in box ironbark forests across central Victoria, and at intermediate and sustainable densities in numerous other forested areas such as the Strathbogie Plateau, the lower Glenelg River region, the Bendigo-Ballarat region and in south Gippsland. So although we hear about a lot of small populations that are declining, they are almost all small and isolated in suboptimal or degraded habitat, often periurban situations where you would really probably not expect viable populations of koalas to persist.

The important point I want to make is that there are extensive areas of habitat in the state's forests and woodlands, in national parks and state forests, where much larger and much more stable populations of koalas persist. Although we do not have a population estimate for those populations—we do not attempt to monitor them; it is not practical—the information that we have, which is derived from monitoring records from a whole range of sources, including departmental wildlife research and monitoring, and records from field naturalist groups, suggests to us that koalas are persisting in these broad, forested and woodland areas.

One point I would like to make is that, in the report from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee on the National Koala Abundance Workshop, an estimate was given indicating a Victorian koala population of 73,500. It is important to note that that figure was not meant to be an estimate of the total number of koalas in Victoria; it was the sum of the estimated number of koalas in the few, small areas where koalas are counted. I am emphasising that we know that there are koala populations across far larger and more extensive areas within Victoria. So the total number in Victoria would be much higher than 73,000, but I do not know how much higher. Those are the key points I wanted to make to begin with. Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: Mr Grear, you have described the koala in South Australia as an introduced species after the elimination in the 1920s. Where did those koalas come from?

Mr Grear : The koalas that were introduced—

ACTING CHAIR: Yes.

Mr Grear : Mainly Victoria and, in particular, I think French Island. Most of the koalas resident on Kangaroo Island in the Adelaide Hills come from that source, except the lower south-east population, which is comprised of translocations from Kangaroo Island, plus a very small population that could have been migrations across westwards from Victoria and potentially a small relic population, although that is uncertain.

ACTING CHAIR: It has been interesting for us to hear about the genetic paucity of the koala population across much of Victoria and South Australia, but do you have any evidence of enrichment of that post the 1920s population beyond the French Island-Phillip Island stock?

Mr Grear : Very little. There were some re-introductions to the Riverland and I think a very small population exists in the Paringa paddock. That may have come from a different source. It is a very self-contained—

ACTING CHAIR: Do you know which source?

Mr Grear : I think from Queensland, but I can get information on that.

ACTING CHAIR: If you would.

Mr Grear : I can, yes.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. You said that there have been more sightings in the Mount Lofty Ranges. Does that equate to more koalas or to more people looking for koalas?

Mr Grear : It is probably a bit of both. Survey work has been undertaken across the Mount Lofty Ranges, particularly in the Adelaide Hills area. There are pockets where the density of koalas is two to four koalas per hectare. So there is no doubt that numbers are increasing from what was a zero base, because they are not native to the Adelaide Hills.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you know if that isthe case historically, that they were never there?

Mr Grear : All of the evidence in the literature suggests that the only place in South Australia they were native to was the south-east. But with respect to the Adelaide Hills, perhaps due to the paucity of the quality of habitat, an expanding population is moving not only beyond ideal habitat into suboptimal habitat but also into a periurban development right across the outskirts of Adelaide and through the Adelaide Hills.

ACTING CHAIR: You said that you had to deal with the danger of koalas to the public. What was that?

Mr Grear : I have personal experience as someone who lives in the Adelaide Hills. Koalas spend quite a bit of time on the ground and the public often approach them in their backyards and so on. There is a danger in any wildlife-human interaction. There are reports of dog-koala interactions and traffic interactions as well—the obvious thing: people swerving in residential streets to miss koalas in the middle of the road.

ACTING CHAIR: Which makes the koalas dangerous to the people?

Mr Grear : It is not necessarily dangerous to the people, but an incident can result in danger to the people.

ACTING CHAIR: I get that, thank you. Mr Menkhorst, I was just going to ask you about the ecological damage and degradation in Victoria from the koalas. How widespread is that?

Mr Menkhorst : It isn't terribly widespread. I has occurred at about 12 locations in the state, all of them coastal locations. Four of them are islands and others are patches of habitat on the mainland. It is occurring in increasingly large patches of habitat such as Mount Eccles National Park, which is about 10,000 hectares, and more recently still in the Otway Ranges, where there are signs of very disturbing widespread defoliation due to koalas.

ACTING CHAIR: Why didn't they do this before?

Mr Menkhorst : I think they did. There are historic photographs published in that document I gave to you taken on Wilsons Promontory in 1905 at the time Wilsons Promontory was being declared a national park. It was pretty much a wilderness and the naturalists who went there and fought for that area to become a national park described koala overbrowsing. They recognised it was such a problem that they actually culled the koalas. So I am starting to wonder if in fact it has not always been a characteristic of southern koalas. In certain environments, usually associated with coastal manna gum, a subspecies of the more widespread manna gum, there seems to be this boom-bust cycle. Perhaps it is natural.

ACTING CHAIR: Like you get with kangaroos?

Mr Menkhorst : Yes, but when there is a serious drought female kangaroos will stop cycling and they will cease breeding. Koalas do not do that; they keep on breeding until they are literally starving.

ACTING CHAIR: Both you and Mr Grear have talked about small peri-urban areas where the populations are disappearing. Is that due to the expansion of human occupation or is it some other factor that is causing those populations to disappear?

Mr Menkhorst : We do not know exactly, but I think that it is a pretty reasonable assumption that the effects of stress, habitat loss, reduction in the number of trees, habitat degradation, dogs and vehicle collisions all combine to cause populations to become unsustainable.

ACTING CHAIR: This is not covered by the government submission, but has there been any economic valuation of the koala made in Victoria that you are aware of?

Mr Menkhorst : No, not specifically in Victoria. I am aware of the Australia-wide research that was published a few years ago. I cannot think of the authors' names right now.

ACTING CHAIR: The figure of 73,500 applied to some areas where there has been a population count, but there has been no census or general count of the numbers in Victoria or an estimate made that is available.

Mr Menkhorst : No. There have been estimates of some areas of Victoria, not by the Victorian government.

ACTING CHAIR: We had evidence before lunch from Hancock about the koalas in the Strzelecki region. I wonder about the government's monitoring of that area. We have had quite a lot of evidence about it being genetically important as a potential resource for the future of the koala. There is some monitoring from Monash University, our witness from Hancock told us, but what government assessment is there of the state of the Strzelecki region koala?

Mr Menkhorst : There has been no specific attention to determining population size in the Strzeleckis.

ACTING CHAIR: We heard that logging of plantation or regrowth native forests where koalas live or pass through proceeds only after the koalas have vacated the area. Has the government done any assessment of the potential of that population of Strzelecki koalas due to that logging activity?

Mr Menkhorst : Not to my knowledge.

ACTING CHAIR: Would that be something that could be assessed?

Mr Menkhorst : Certainly. It is part of the proposed research that was referred to, which Monash University, Hancock and others including DSE developed. That research proposal was an Australian Research Council linkage grant, and it failed to get funding. So that is part of the problem. Some of the earlier questioning was around why that has not moved forward. We are now in a situation where we are looking for other sources of funds to implement that.

ACTING CHAIR: You mean the Monash research?

Mr Menkhorst : Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: So is it proceeding at the moment or is it unfunded?

Mr Menkhorst : It is unfunded.

ACTING CHAIR: So it is not proceeding?

Mr Menkhorst : The refining of the research proposal is proceeding but, as I understand it—I am probably speaking out of turn here—the application to the Australian Research Council failed. As far as I am aware, there has not been an alternative source of funding.

ACTING CHAIR: So the research presumably awaits that funding. Can you tell the committee about the Victorian government's assessment of the importance of the Strzelecki koala population to the future of the koalas overall?

Mr Menkhorst : Victoria's koala management strategy, which I have tabled, clearly acknowledges the higher genetic diversity of the Strzelecki Ranges—well, in South Gippsland generally; we think it is more widespread than just the Strzelecki Ranges. That is part of the research proposal that I was speaking of. It is to try to determine the true extent of those genetic more diverse individuals. However, it is very hard for me to understand just how important that extra genetically diversity is. Genetic theory says that those animals should be able to adapt to environmental change better, perhaps resist disease better and so on, so it is a desirable thing. At the same time, the other, supposedly inbred Victorian koalas have very high population growth rates—in some areas at least. So there does not seem to be evidence of genetic problems occurring yet, but they may well occur in the future.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you subscribe to the theory that they would be more vulnerable—that is, the wider population compared to the Strzelecki range population—to some future disease or pandemic?

Mr Menkhorst : Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: I am interested in the South Gippsland or Strzelecki koala population. Can you tell the committee what research is underway at the moment into the genetic make-up, viability and range of that particular population?

Mr Menkhorst : The only research currently underway that I am aware of is that of Tristan Lee from the University of New South Wales. That is looking at the genetic make-up of that population.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you know how far that study has proceeded, what stage it is at?

Mr Menkhorst : No. The Victorian department has had surprisingly little interaction with Mr Lee, but one of the presenters this morning apparently has a draft paper that is being submitted, so we will be very keen to see that when it is published.

ACTING CHAIR: What research is the Department of Sustainability and Environment doing?

Mr Menkhorst : None.

ACTING CHAIR: What is the status of the koala in Victoria?

Mr Menkhorst : Its official status is that it is protected wildlife, as are all native vertebrates except fish. That is all. It is not listed as a threatened species under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. But it has not been nominated for listing, so it has not been assessed.

ACTING CHAIR: Could the department nominate it if it wished to?

Mr Menkhorst : The department can, but the department chooses not to do nominations itself. Any member of the public or any group can nominate it.

ACTING CHAIR: So it has not been considered for nomination in Victoria. Finally—I must give my fellow senators a chance here—can you give the committee any information about the difference between the northern koala population and the southern koala population, whether you think they are subspecies or there is a difference?

Mr Menkhorst : I think Professor Carrick summarised that situation very well this morning. I do not think I have anything to add. I am kind of attracted to his suggestion of considering there to be two taxa, two forms, at some level and treating those as different management units. I think that makes a lot of sense.

ACTING CHAIR: I should have asked you, because of the relevance to Victoria, whether you have any information on that isolate of koalas around Bermagui in south-east New South Wales and what relationship that has to the Victorian population.

Mr Menkhorst : No, I do not have any information, but I would add that I am not convinced it is an isolate. There are koalas in far eastern Victoria, around Mallacoota, and north of the Victorian-New South Wales border, in the vicinity of Delegate, so it would seem to me that there is very likely to be a continuous population through that area—very sparse.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you think logging would have an impact on that population?

Mr Menkhorst : Almost certainly.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. Senator McKenzie?

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you, Senator Brown. You have crossed off a few of my questions. I appreciate that. Mr Grear, we have heard of two prolific koala populations, one on Kangaroo Island and one not far from my hometown of Mount Eccles. There are different management strategies with both. Could you expand on South Australia's approach to see if there are any mainland lessons we can learn from what you have done over there.

Mr Grear : The Kangaroo Island Koala Management Program started proper in 1997, when there was a population estimate of around 27,000 on the island. It was not per se the abundance of koalas that was causing the concern; it was the impact they were having on the habitat that was of concern. There was quite a long public consultation period around this because, as we have said here, they are an iconic species. It was decided to commence a program of sterilisation and translocation. That has been occurring since that time in 1997, with the intention of obtaining an average koala density on the island of 0.75 koalas per hectare. That program has continued, although there were no translocations in 2010-11. In 2006 there were around 16,000 koalas on the island, at various densities, and now there are around 13½ thousand on the island, at various densities. That has been backed up with an ecological restoration program on the island as well, particularly in the riverine habitat that was really suffering—the good quality manna gum habitat. So there has been a lot of community involvement on Kangaroo Island in replanting and so on.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator DI NATALE: Mr Menkhorst, I am interested in the Otway population, firstly, which is not surprising given it is not far from where I live. While it is obvious that there is overbrowsing going on, to my untrained eye there appear to be coastal manna gums not far from where the koala population is that seem to be unaffected and to do not seem to be of interest to the neighbouring koalas. Is there something that keeps them within a particular range? Is it just the palatability of what is around or does something keep them confined to a particular area?

Mr Menkhorst : We do not really know. I think it is largely determined by palatability of individual trees, not only tree species but actual individual trees. Some particular trees perhaps have lower levels of the toxins that are present in eucalyptus leaves and are more palatable, and those trees are hammered by the koalas until there is not a single leaf left on them, as you have probably noticed. That is one of the mysteries.

Senator DI NATALE: You have also mentioned in your submission that you believe that climate change poses a real potential threat to the koala population in Victoria. Could you elaborate on that?

Mr Menkhorst : There is reason to think that the koala is perhaps particularly susceptible to increasing aridity and higher temperatures, and the wildfires which will probably come with those. Koalas mostly do not drink, although they will do so when they are very water stressed. They rely on getting their water from leaf moisture. If trees are under water stress, presumably they have a lower water content in their leaves and therefore koalas may not be able to derive adequate amounts of water, and that will cause all sorts of physiological problems for the koala, obviously. I am concerned that the predictions for Victoria are for increasing dryness and higher temperatures and that that will cause a contraction in the area of suitable habitat for the koala over time.

Senator DI NATALE: In that context, one would imagine that genetic variability would be critical in a future where climate change will impact on some of the habitats we have described and you would expect the genetic variability would be very important.

Mr Menkhorst : I am not sure about very important, but it would be desirable. I do not know the extent to which a bit extra diversity is going to allow individuals to be less susceptible to dying of thirst, but it certainly cannot do any harm.

Senator DI NATALE: Okay. Given that the koalas in south Gippsland express most of that diversity, you mentioned it is an issue where koalas and timber harvesting coexist. What sort of issue is it? Just describe for me why it is an issue?

Mr Menkhorst : Clear-fell logging results in the death of animals that were depending on those trees that were taken away. Individual animals might be able to move into adjacent unlogged forests, but one should assume that that adjacent forest is already occupied by that species. The immigrant animals usually do not fare well. What you are doing is forcing more animals into less habitat ,which simply does not work. Those immigrant animals are likely to suffer a lingering death. So clear-felling reduces the area of habitat, so that is going to reduce the total population. But that habitat is regenerated under a logging regime, so at some point in the future the regenerating habitat will become suitable for koalas and koalas will reinvade that area and live in it until it is logged again. So the impact is not as dramatic as clearing vegetation for agriculture, for example, where it is cleared permanently.

We know from many examples, and Professor Carrick talked about one this morning, where koalas will occupy newly created habitats. The fact that the koalas occur in the plantations in the Strzeleckis, for example, shows they are quite adaptable and they will occupy habitat that regrows or is re-created. In theory it is quite possible to have a logging regime and koalas as well. But you will have a smaller population of koalas.

Senator DI NATALE: You suggest that one thing that needs to happen in that environment is that a detailed koala management strategy needs to be developed and that HVP are on the way to doing that. What does a koala management strategy look like? What does it involve?

Mr Menkhorst : It would include elements such as an analysis of the entire landscape and the habitat availability and distribution and the connectivity between patches and an estimate of population densities in the different vegetation communities in that area and therefore an estimate of the total population that an area could support. Then there are procedures that would try and maintain that target population, those sorts of things.

Senator DI NATALE: What sorts of procedures?

Mr Menkhorst : Habitat retention, habitat connectivity. There is not that much else with koalas. Koalas have relatively simple habitat requirements. They need enough eucalypts of the relevant forage species growing on sites that are adequately good in terms of nutrient availability and water availability. Other issues such as dog predation or vehicle mortality or even disease I think are relatively minor in areas where you have a reasonably large population in a reasonably large extent of habitat.

Senator DI NATALE: How much of that work has been done in this area?

Mr Menkhorst : Only the work that HVP have done on their land. I think HVP deserve to be commended for the work they have done. They are leading the way.

Senator DI NATALE: Why hasn't more detailed work been carried out?

Mr Menkhorst : You see, the koala is a common animal in Victoria. For a department and a government that are struggling to maintain our threatened species it does not make a lot of sense to spend a lot of resources on a species that is not considered to be threatened.

Senator DI NATALE: But we are talking about distinct populations of koalas, aren't we? We are talking about one population here that is genetically diverse and potentially provides us with a population that will be much more adaptable to disease, potentially climate change and other things. Would it not make sense that this is one population that deserves more attention than perhaps some of the other populations that we have talked about?

Mr Menkhorst : Yes, when it comes to putting resources into koala conservation that is certainly the first area you would go to.

ACTING CHAIR: A couple more questions. Firstly, we have evidence from Dr Meltzer when we had the inquiry in Canberra of foxes taking young koalas in Victoria. Can you tell the committee about that?

Mr Menkhorst : I am unaware of any information on that. I think dingoes or dogs probably take young koalas. Powerful owls rarely do.

ACTING CHAIR: Have you got any evidence on that?

Mr Menkhorst : On the dogs?

ACTING CHAIR: Dogs in Victoria?

Mr Menkhorst : Not direct data, no.

ACTING CHAIR: Has anybody ever been prosecuted in Victoria for the death of a koala?

Mr Menkhorst : I do not know. Quite possibly.

ACTING CHAIR: We have heard evidence about an 80 per cent loss of population of koalas in the mulga lands of Queensland due to the drought. What was the impact of the drought here in Victoria on koala numbers?

Mr Menkhorst : We have no data, but it was probably quite significant. It seems to have been for a whole range of native fauna.

ACTING CHAIR: Was there tree loss here, as there was in the mulga lands?

Mr Menkhorst : I was very interested in Professor Carrick's comments on that. Certainly nothing to the extent that he described. But, yes, trees died in the 12 years of drought that we have had. I am not sure why people talk in the past tense about that.

ACTING CHAIR: Because it has been raining.

Mr Menkhorst : We had one wet summer and that was a La Nina event. That was tropical rain that came down in the winter, which is now panning out panning pretty much like the previous 10 have been.

ACTING CHAIR: You have noted in the government's submission that 15 per cent of koala habitat in Victoria may have been burnt since 1990—

Mr Menkhorst : 2000.

ACTING CHAIR: 2000, in bushfires. Would you expect the population to have been diminished by that or not affected?

Mr Menkhorst : Certainly diminished.

ACTING CHAIR: Finally, the mobility of koalas; do you have any information about their ability to move from one area to another or on how far they range in their habitat?

Mr Menkhorst : There have been some radio-tracking studies that indicate that koalas are highly mobile and are capable of ranging for quite some distances—kilometres—and through a wide variety of habitats. Koalas have the capacity to colonise newly available habitat. But that ability would be greatly enhanced by corridors of treed vegetation, simply because the presence of trees gives wandering animals a refuge should they be confronted by dogs, cattle or whatever, which apparently happens.

ACTING CHAIR: What sort of newly available habitat is there for the koala in Victoria?

Mr Menkhorst : Victoria is the home of the Landcare movement. There has been an enormous community effort into revegetating areas in Victoria, so there is quite a lot of newly growing eucalypt woodland and strips of eucalypt open forest.

ACTING CHAIR: We heard this morning that there has been an improvement in the koala population at Gunnedah because of people planting trees. What monitored or scientific evidence is there of that in Victoria?

Mr Menkhorst : I do not have any direct evidence off the top of my head. There have been studies looking at the utilisation of revegetation sites by birds, but I am not aware of any that involve mammals.

ACTING CHAIR: Finally, are there any studies currently underway by the Victorian government into any aspects of the koala at all?

Mr Menkhorst : The Victorian government is monitoring population densities at the sites that are actively managed, where population numbers are actively managed and is modelling the response of populations to that management action. But, apart from that, there is no research as such by the government.

ACTING CHAIR: At any of those sites which have been actively managed, is the koala population increasing?

Mr Menkhorst : No. We are trying to make it decrease.

ACTING CHAIR: There is nowhere where you are trying to increase it?

Mr Menkhorst : Not actively trying, no.

ACTING CHAIR: Mr Grear, I want to ask you the same question about the drought. What impact did it have on the koala population in South Australia?

Mr Grear : The observations were in those extreme times in terms of heat stress. Again, koalas in the Mount Lofty ranges were seeking water, so there was that human interaction. On Kangaroo Island there was no population decrease attributable to the drought. There were not high numbers of trees dying on Kangaroo Island. The wildfire event that occurred on Kangaroo Island in 2007 was very large. But 95 per cent of the high-quality koala habitat was not burnt in that particular situation, so the impact on the koalas was not enormous. We do not have any firm evidence of the long-term impact of the drought on koala numbers.

ACTING CHAIR: Does that mean five per cent was burnt?

Mr Grear : Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: What has been the impact there?

Mr Grear : After the fires, those areas were identified and a trapping program was run. That was one of the few occasions when those animals were translocated. They were still on Kangaroo Island but they were relocated to other high-quality habitat. The evidence since then has been that those areas are regenerating and koalas are starting to move back into that high-quality habitat.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you know what happened to the translocated koalas?

Mr Grear : Off the top of my head, I am not aware of any evidence on whether they survived in that new habitat.

ACTING CHAIR: Have you got any evidence that koalas translocated to an established koala habitat survive?

Mr Grear : Obviously the numbers are fewer, but when koalas were translocated in the south-east, radio tracking of those individual koalas was done. It was interesting that they quickly found their way back to their own zone. That was the evidence back in the late-nineties and into the 2000s of the work that was done on the translocated ones. The policy on Kangaroo Island is that, when the animals are sterilised, they go back to where they came from.

ACTING CHAIR: There is a pretty strong impulse in lots of things. If you have ever had trouble with possums, you will know about that! Thank you very much.

Senator McKENZIE: You might not be able to answer this but, if you can, I would appreciate it. Given the genetic importance of the Strzelecki koala, is there a mechanism whereby the state government can list certain populations within the state as vulnerable but not others? I know you said earlier that, in Victoria, no community organisation or person had applied to the state government to make it vulnerable, but is there a way for us to differentiate between populations using state mechanisms?

Mr Menkhorst : My understanding is that, under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, there is not; you have to list the entity in its entirety.