First National Koala Conference

The first National Koala Conference kicked off to the embrace of a beautiful Autumnal day in Port Macquarie on Friday 17th May at the Westport Conference Centre in Buller Street. After many, many months of planning and organising by Cheyne Flanagan and her dedicated organising committee from the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital the day had finally come and there was a real buzz of anticipation in the air, ABC broadcasted their live morning show from the foyer as vets, scientists, carers, rescuers, politicians and public servants mingled together.

The usually unflappable Cheyne was visibly nervous as the conference room began to fill with speakers and delegates from around the country and indeed from around the world.

Her nerves were not helped when she introduced the opening key note speaker only to find he was not in the room and was still doing a live interview for ABC radio in the foyer! But it was nothing more than a hiccup and very soon Assoc. Professor Mark Krockenberger from the University of Sydney appeared and took to the stage to give us an account of 35 years of research association between University of Sydney and the Koala Preservation society of NSW. Dr Damien Higgins then followed on to outline some of the current and ongoing research projects underway at the faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney, not least their ongoing research into Chlamydia in Koalas, and stressed that “The most effective way to improve the health, welfare and status of the koala is to continue to build and maintain strong partnerships between koala researcher, koala veterinarians, koala hospitals and community groups.”

Next up was the Hon. Cate Faehrmann MLC, Greens MP in the Parliament of NSW who used an example of what is happening in the Leard State Forest in north-west NSW to present her speech “Homeless and Orphaned – what logging and mining is doing to Koalas under government watch.” I think we can all agree with her assertion that “Destruction of koala habitat continues and is the biggest of many threats to our national icon. There is no question that to succeed in conserving the koala in the wild, adequate areas of koala habitat must be preserved. The koala is a protected species yet its habitat must be afforded the highest level of protection if the koala’s threatened species status is to bear any weight.” I think despite any political bias we may have that we can probably also all agree with Cate that NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker was not correct when she infamously stated that “logging protects koalas’.

The ever effervescent Dr Stephen Phillips from Biolink Ecological Consultants was next to the podium. A longstanding friend of the Koala Hospital Dr Philips gave us “A personal perspective on 40 years of koala conservation – is the cup half empty, half full or not there at all?” Billed as “a wide ranging presentation dedicated to the visions of Jean Starr and which discusses a variety of issues and experience associated with the conservation and management of koalas over the 40 year time period since initial establishment of the…(now KPSNSW) in 1973.” Dr Phillips also discussed the very uncomfortable question: “Are koalas here because of us and what we do for them, or are they still here in spite of us and what we do to them? Will they continue to survive into the future?” The conclusion: “Interestingly and in the case of the more severe populations, survival appears more due to circumstance, history or plain old good luck than it does any other measure or legislative action on our part. Therein lies the future perhaps.” On this bombshell we broke for morning tea and once again the conference centre bustled with enthusiastic conversation and debate.

Read more in Gum Tips June 2013

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