Conservationists say a program designed to save the koala population at Cape Otway on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road appears to be working, but a lot more work needs to be done.
Wildlife officers said a population spike a few years ago saw more than 4,000 koalas in the region — about 14 times the sustainable population.
Over the past year, officers have been catching the koalas, and fitting the females with a contraceptive device, before relocating some of them to other habitats nearby.
They have also put down about 5 per cent of the koalas they found, because of starvation, broken bones or other conditions.
Over the past year, officers have been catching the koalas and assessing their health.
They have been checking the females for any pouch young, then inserting a contraceptive device.
Jim O’Brien from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said the program had been going well.
“We’re seeing some real positive signs,” he said.
“We’ve probably got the animals down to about four per hectare, where they were up to around 14 per hectare at one stage, and we’re hoping to get back to a sustainable level which is one per hectare.”
The koalas are packed into crates to be relocated to other eucalypt forests in the area. (ABC News: Margaret Paul)
He said about 500 koalas have been moved to eucalypt forests near Lorne, and they hope at least another 100 will be moved in the coming month.
“Signs are great so far, they seem to be really adapting to the new habitat,” he said.
Locals who rely on the koala population to bring in tourists said the program was desperately needed.
“There were quite a lot of dead koalas,” said Amber Noseda, who works in tourism.
“Sometimes the mothers were desperate and they discarded the young, it wasn’t just the older koalas but the babies as well that had passed away so that was sad.
“I’m an animal lover as well so it’s sad seeing the destruction that the koalas create but it’s sad seeing them starving too.
“So the whole effect was devastating for all of us.”
She is confident the program will help both the koalas and the trees in the long-term.
Dr Jack Pascoe from the Conservation Ecology Centre (CEC) said something definitely needed to be done.
“Koala numbers at Cape Otway were simply unsustainable, both for the forest and the koalas themselves,” he said.
“Obviously it was a massive welfare issue with animals literally starving to death.
“The canopy of the forest seems to be relatively stable so that seems to indicate the early years of the program are relatively successful.”
He said staff from the CEC have planted more than 100,000 trees in the region to help the habitat regenerate.