This fluffy koala had better get off the road quickly, otherwise he might end up paying with his life – like many others before him.
The koala is one of Australia’s iconic marsupial species, but this once common eucalyptus eater is threatened: the koala has been considered endangered since 1999 and has even been considered critically endangered since the beginning of 2022. The reason for the decline in populations today is no longer hunting, as it was in previous centuries. Instead, the destruction and fragmentation of habitat, urban sprawl and natural disasters such as bushfires and floods are affecting the koala.
But there are other, more direct factors: car accidents, dog attacks and chlamydia are the main causes of death and injury for koalas in southern Queensland, according to a database maintained since 1997. “In the five years between 2009 and 2014, 52 percent of reported wild koala deaths were caused by a car accident, 34 percent by chlamydia-related illness and 14 percent by a dog attack,” reports Jörg Henning from the University of Queensland.
In absolute numbers, 1,431 koalas died in car accidents in this five-year period alone, 943 more from chlamydia and 395 from dog attacks. “It should be borne in mind that these deaths are only the reported cases, so the actual numbers are likely to be significantly higher,” adds Henning. Each and every one of these deaths is a bitter loss, because the number of wild koalas continues to decline and is estimated to only be around 100,000.
Henning and his colleagues have now created maps that identify areas and roads that are particularly dangerous for koalas and want to translate these into suitable protective measures with local politicians. In the future, road signs could remind drivers to slow down in koala areas, while special overpasses make it easier for the gray marsupials to cross the road. “And awareness campaigns could help reduce the number of dog attacks on koalas by reminding owners to keep their dogs on a leash or in fenced areas,” suggests Henning.