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Fire a threat to koala population

Jenny Hayes at a fence designed to keep koalas safe from traffic near the site of a bushfire in Cudgen.
Jenny Hayes at a fence designed to keep koalas safe from traffic near the site of a bushfire in Cudgen. John Gass

IF koalas were lost in last week's bushfire at the Kings Forest development, Tweed Coast Rd, it could be the "death knell" of the koala population in the region, according to a Tweed Shire Council koala expert.

A bushfire on the Tweed Coast that claimed 95 hectares of a national park and endangered a koala habitat on the proposed development claimed no casualties according to Tweed Shire Council.

But senior veterinarian from the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary's animal hospital Michael Pyne said while no koalas were brought to the hospital during or following the fire, it doesn't mean there were no casualties.

"Unfortunately in a bushfire situation, animals either get burnt to death or escape," he said.

"They are still losing their habitat and are forced to move into unfamiliar territory as a result of bushfire."

Tweed Shire Council's Koala Connections project manager Sally Jacka said National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers had inspected the fire-affected area and did not find any injured wildlife.

"It appears the fire was not particularly hot in the known koala habitat and did not get up into the tree canopy," Ms Jacka said.

"As far as we can ascertain, no koalas were lost or injured because of the fire.

"However, the location is one of the strongholds of Tweed shire's coastal koala population and it's of great concern that fires occurred there.

"Koala numbers on the Tweed coast are at such a low level.

"Any losses through fire could be the death knell of the population."

Tweed mayor Barry Longhand said the loss of habitat was a "big issue in terms of remaining koala".

A study into koala numbers on the Tweed Coast in 2010 revealed the marsupials' plight in the area is worse than first thought.

Team Koala president Jenny Hayes said the study revealed the situation was "extremely desperate".

"Dr Stephen Phillips is studying the area and the situation seems to be far more serious than we could have predicted," she said.

"This is definitely the last stand for the koalas.

"Kings Forest, which is set to be the site of a 5000 home township, should it be approved by the State Government, is one of the only areas on the Tweed Coast where koalas remain."

Ms Hayes is calling for an investigation into the fire.

"There are only three colonies of koala left on the Tweed coast and this is one of them," she said.

"It's sickening. Of course there would be no evidence of casualties as the fire would incinerate them."

Topics:  blaze bushfire kings forest koalas tweed shire council wildlife



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