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  4. What are the options to improve wild koala welfare?

What are the options to improve wild koala welfare?

koala in tree

Koalas are an iconic Australian species, known to attract thousands of tourists every year. Koalas living in the wild suffer a range of negative impacts due primarily to habitat loss, climate change, vehicle collision, and dog attacks. Consequences include pain, injury, fear, stress, incapacitation, starvation, and death. Therefore, improving wild koala welfare depends on safeguarding and restoring their natural habitats, minimising the consequences of climate change, and taking measures to decrease vehicle collisions and predation [1].

Habitat loss

Nutrition and environment are two of the five domains of animal welfare [2]. For good animal welfare in addition to meeting the basic survival needs of an animal, their mental state should also be considered. For example, the food which is provided to koalas must be diverse, nutritionally balanced and enjoyable to eat. Similarly, access to shelter is insufficient to ensure positive welfare – it should be a suitable environment, with adequate space and appropriate noise levels, where koalas can use all five senses and express their normal behaviour. Therefore, conserving existing eucalyptus forests, creating wildlife corridors to connect fragmented habitats, and reforesting cleared areas are some of the many measures that need to be taken so that the species not only survives but thrives. Identifying and prioritising koala hotspots, where populations are dense and habitat is critical, is essential both for targeted conservation efforts and to improve the wellbeing of individuals. Protecting these areas and implementing effective land-use planning measures can help safeguard koala populations and their resources.

Injury, pain, disease, and death

Health is another of the five domains, and to help ensure good welfare, koalas should be fit, in good body condition, vigorous, and free from disease, injuries or other physical impairments [2]. To achieve this, minimising the impacts of land clearing, motor vehicles, dog attacks, climate change, and disease is a priority.

Land clearing

Land clearing activities not only cause harm to koalas through habitat loss but can also impact individuals directly resulting in severe injuries and incapacitation or even death if koalas become trapped on trees that are to be cut down, are hit by heavy machinery, falling trees, or exposed to other hazards [3]. This has been reported in recent times by the media, raising concerns amongst the public as well as conservation and rescue groups with calls to reject development proposals in specific areas. Where land clearing operations occur, stricter protocols must be implemented including conducting thorough surveys to identify koala habitats before undertaking clearing or harvesting operations, establishing buffer zones around known koala habitats, and implementing wildlife-friendly logging practices that minimise disturbances to koalas and their habitats. In addition, a wildlife expert should be present during operations to assess and report on the adequacy of the measures and to take appropriate action to assist displaced or injured koalas. In terms of plantation timber harvesting, more needs to be done to prevent koalas establishing in these areas as they only provide temporary habitat. In the past, strategies such as translocation or desexing have been used to reduce numbers, however these can have negative welfare impacts such as stress associated with handling, and so are not considered effective or ideal solutions [4].

Motor vehicle collisions

Motor vehicle collisions are the second most common threat to the species, with an average of 300 deaths per year in NSW and 400 in Queensland [5,6]. Preventing these events requires action not only by governments and private companies, but also by the public. It is important to have lower speed limits in koala habitats, appropriate road signage alerting drivers of the presence of koalas (i.e. koala crossing signs, koala monitors etc.) and road design modifications, such as wildlife crossings, underpasses, and fencing, which can help direct koalas safely across roads and reduce the risk of vehicle collisions. A koala speed zone trial in the Koala Coast, south-east Queensland, showed that increased signage and lower speed limits did not result in drivers driving slower during the trial period and hence there was no change in collision rate [7]. However, it has been reported in other studies though, that such measures can be effective at preventing fatalities when compliance with speed limits is high.

Dog attack

The third most common threat to wild koalas, after habitat loss and motor vehicle collision, is dog attacks, which are responsible for an average of 100 deaths per year in NSW. These events can be prevented not only through laws and regulations but through the efforts and commitment of individual citizens. One study has shown that more emphasis is needed to engage domestic pet owners and other community members to prevent negative wildlife and pet interactions [8]. With the increasing human encroachment and habitat alteration, restrictions such as banning pets in national parks and adjacent areas may not be sufficient. Wildlife are increasingly being found in backyards, therefore it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure pets are managed to prevent wildlife being attacked. To mitigate this threat, measures such as responsible pet ownership programs, fencing around koala habitats, and public education campaigns can help raise awareness about the importance of keeping pets under control and away from areas frequented by koalas need to be implemented.

Climate change

The mounting effects of climate change pose significant challenges to the welfare of koalas. Extreme weather events such as reduced rainfall, increasing maximum temperatures and flash flooding disrupt habitats and restrict access to essential resources like food and shelter, thereby directly impacting the well-being of koalas. It is estimated that more than 8000 koalas perished during the devastating 2019-2020 bushfire season alone [9]. Moreover, prolonged droughts have led to a lack of viable shelter and food, resulting in starvation and compromised immunity, exacerbating disease progression among surviving populations.


As part of the health domain, optimum welfare should entail low or no disease. Disease management programs, veterinary care, and research initiatives are crucial for combatting diseases. Chlamydia, a common disease among koalas, not only renders individuals infertile negatively impacting population growth, but also causes severe conjunctivitis, a painful condition that can lead to blindness and consequently starvation and death. Stress due to habitat loss and constant human activity greatly increases susceptibility to disease.

Conservation measures

Finally, it is worth noting that some activities relating to conservation and protection of koalas may have unintended animal welfare consequences. For example, regular surveillance is indispensable for the ongoing welfare of the species. However, acquiring such knowledge can cause stress to koalas thereby impacting their well-being. Easier, cheaper, and less invasive methodologies that are being suggested to overcome these challenges include the use of acoustic sensors, heat detecting drones or detection dogs [10, 11]. Nevertheless, more research is needed to identify more cost-effective and humane methods of surveillance.


Improving the welfare of wild koalas requires a multifaceted approach that addresses various threats and stressors facing these iconic marsupials. By implementing targeted strategies to prevent injuries, reduce stressors, and enhance habitat quality, we can help ensure a brighter future for koalas in the wild. Through collaboration between the public, scientists, and governments, as well as innovation, and a commitment to koala welfare, we can work towards creating a sustainable environment where koalas can thrive for generations to come [12].


[1] Taylor-Brown A, Booth R, Gillett A, et al (2019) The impact of human activities on Australian wildlife. PloS one,14(1), e0206958.

[2] Mellor DJ (2017) Operational details of the five domains model and its key applications to the assessment and management of animal welfare. Animals, 7(8), 60.

[3] Finn HC, & Stephens, NS (2017) The invisible harm: Land clearing is an issue of animal welfare. Wildlife Research, 44(5), 377-391.

[4] Whisson, D A, & Ashman, K R (2020) When an iconic native animal is overabundant: The koala in southern Australia. Conservation Science and Practice, 2(5), e188.

[5] Dissanayake RB, Stevenson M, Astudillo VG, et al (2023) Anthropogenic and environmental factors associated with koala deaths due to dog attacks and vehicle collisions in South-East Queensland, Australia, 2009–2013. Scientific reports, 13(1), 14275.

[6] Schlagloth R, Santamaria F, Melzer A, et al (2022) Vehicle collisions and dog attacks on Victorian koalas as evidenced by a retrospective analysis of sightings and admission records 1997–2011. Australian Zoologist, 42(3), 655-666.

[7] Dique DS, Thompson J, Preece HJ, et al (2003) Koala mortality on roads in south-east Queensland: The koala speed-zone trial. Wildlife research, 30(4), 419-426.

[8] David P, Rundle-Thiele S, Pang B, et al (2019) Engaging the dog owner community in the design of an effective koala aversion program. Social Marketing Quarterly, 25(1), 55-68.

[9] Markwell K (2020) Koalas, bushfires and climate change: Towards an ethic of care. Annals of Tourism Research, 84, 103003.

[10] Cristescu RH, Foley E, Markula A, et al (2015) Accuracy and efficiency of detection dogs: A powerful new tool for koala conservation and management. Scientific Reports, 5(1), 8349.

[11] Law B, Gonsalves L, Burgar J, et al (2021) Estimating and validating koala Phascolarctos cinereus density estimates from acoustic arrays using spatial count modelling. Wildlife Research, 49(5), 438-448.

[12] Beyer HL, de Villiers D, Loader J, et al (2018) Management of multiple threats achieves meaningful koala conservation outcomes. Journal of Applied Ecology, 55(4), 1966-1975.

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Updated on July 3, 2024
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