More than 90% of people in the Northern Rivers are happy to live among koalas and want to see them protected, a major community survey has found.
The NSW North Coast Koala Study was conducted late last year by the University of Queensland, Southern Cross University and the University of Sydney in conjunction with Friends of the Koala and Lismore, Byron, Ballina and Tweed councils.
The survey gathered data about community attitudes towards koalas and was done in conjunction with an ecological survey looking at koala populations in the Northern Rivers.
University of Queensland Lead Researcher Professor Clive McAlpine said combining these data sets would give North Coast councils a better chance of saving koalas, which are vulnerable to extinction in NSW.
“Doing a social survey and an ecological study in tandem enables us to establish where we have strong numbers of koalas and where we have good community support for conservation. This allows us to target on-ground works where koalas are prevalent and where we have a social licence to operate,” he said.
“The two surveys allow us to pinpoint where our conservation work will be most effective and most supported by the people. This is a great example of academics partnering with practitioners to improve land management. It’s taking the research off the shelf and basing good decisions on science to save one of our most iconic species.”
Professor McAlpine explained that community participation is essential for koalas to survive. The major threats koalas face – such as loss of habitat, road deaths and dog attacks – can only be reduced if people are willing to change behaviours.
He said less than 7% of people considered koalas are a bother to have near the home while more than 90% agree future conservation of koalas is important.
“We need people to slow down, to be responsible pet owners and we need to find landholders who want to work with councils and Landcare groups to plant more koala food trees,” he said.
“This survey allows us to target our efforts in places where there are high koala populations combined with a community that is really willing to work with us. Community engagement and buy-in are critical for the success of any conservation program. That is when we see the best results for our koalas.”
The survey showed there was a high level of willingness amongst respondents to take action to protect koalas. The greatest willingness was for keeping dogs inside at night (84%) and for driving slowly in koala zones (80%). Other actions that respondents were highly likely to participate in were reporting koala sightings (64%), advocating to government for koala protection (59%), restoring native bush on their properties (59%), participating in Council-led initiatives for conservation on their property (55%), caring for or rescuing wildlife (42%), and joining a community conservation group (38%).
The strategies that gained the most support to protect koalas were increasing habitat (87%) and restricting dogs from roaming outside at night (84%). Support for the other strategies varied: installing infrastructure to reduce speed in koala areas (76%), preventing development in koala habitat areas (74%), applying existing regulation (74%), using public money to buy land for koala reserves (70%), decreasing speed limits in koala zones (69%), funding more research into koala diseases (65%), and using public money to fund koala rescue services (54%).