Koalas. Who doesn’t love them? Overseas visitors flock to have their photos taken with them, while shops throughout Australia have the cute and cuddly stuffed versions ready for take-home claw-free snuggles.
The Mornington Peninsula has a small population of koalas that are in trouble, according to the Mornington Peninsula Koala Conservation Group, which was founded just shy of two years ago by a collection of koala-loving environmental enthusiasts. Rosebud resident and group president Dirk Jansen explains: “I remember moving to Rosebud and my neighbours telling me that they didn’t see as many koalas around as they used to. Everyone we have spoken to over the last couple of years says the same. The numbers appear to be declining. A recent study shows that 69 per cent of koala habitat is on private property now, so it’s very hard to get the exact numbers.”
Dirk continues: “The main reason for the assumed reduction in numbers is because of habitat loss. Koalas rely on leafs from gum trees for food; trees like the manna gum and swamp gum. We only have about 18 per cent of native vegetation left on the Mornington Peninsula, and the remaining patches of native vegetation are not well enough connected for our wildlife to move safely across the landscape due to intense urbanisation and fragmentation of habitat. This is a big problem for all our wildlife here.”
There are 30 committed members of the group currently dedicated to the plight of the koala, with scores of volunteers turning up to any one of its awareness events, which include nature walks, tree plantings and fundraisers. This ‘famous’ marsupial mammal that is related to the kangaroo and wombat has a team of eco-avengers batting behind the scenes for them. Dirk continues: “We run events around the Peninsula’s koala hot spots such as Somers, Balnarring, Arthurs Seat, Greens Bush in the Mornington Peninsula National Park, and Red Hill and encourage residents to report koala sightings to us. We want to educate people on preserving native trees, controlling weeds such as ivy, karamu and pittosporum, which compete with native trees, and try to create corridors of native vegetation on their properties to increase koala habitat.”
Although not officially classified as endangered, the Australian Koala Foundation estimates there are fewer than 100,000 koalas left in the wild. Dirk says that gum trees planted today on the Peninsula will take at least five years to become a viable food source for koalas and 100 years until the formation of tree hollows which other native animals such as possums, sugar gliders and many birds depend on to live and nest in.
Dirk concludes: “As an affiliated Landcare group, we’ll continue to work with authorities, other Landcare groups, businesses and private landholders to improve habitat and reduce the key threats to koalas.” Log on to www.mpkoalas.org.au or follow the group on Facebook or Instagram to report koala sightings or get involved.