Australia's iconic koala is under increasing pressure from dogs, both wild and domestic. At a recent NSW Conservation Council meeting, National Parks and Wildlife Scientist Dan Lunney pointed out the impact of dogs on koalas. Along the north coast of NSW, the impact tends to come from domestic dogs.
Koalas of cause are arboreal and up in a tree they are well away from dogs. However, it's the increasing time that koalas have to spend on ground that is making them vulnerable to dog attack. Loss of habitat means suitable trees are further apart, forcing koalas to spend more time moving between trees. However, University of Sydney researcher, Professor Ian Hume has pointed out that the chemical composition of the koala's preferred eucalyptus trees is changing due to climate change.
This climate impact also leads to the koalas moving between trees more often and therefore coming up against dogs more often. Koalas can defend themselves better than many people would imagine, but they don't have too much hope against a determined dog or pack of dogs.
While Dan Lunney has seen the impact mainly from domestic dogs, Invasive Animals CRC researcher Guy Ballard is out in remote bush areas tracking dogs in his project work. I asked Guy if he'd seen evidence of dog predation on koalas. In his tracking efforts, he's seen three in recent times - not a huge number, but he wasn't out looking for koalas specifically, but tracking radio-collared dogs.
The dogs don't seem to eat the koala. I imagine with their eucalyptus-exclusive diet that they'd taste like concentrated cough syrup. But Guy says the signs of dog attack are obvious - a crushed head, bite marks all over and lots of dog tracks.
The NSW Government has launched an iniative to try and halt the dropping koala numbers in that State.