for National Geographic News
On the north coast of New South Wales, Australia, koala researchers, a property developer, and local citizens have joined forces to create the first housing development planned around the needs of koalas.
Koalas and people thrive in the same places, along the fertile east coast of Australia. The native forests are rapidly being cleared and converted to urban landscapes. Because most koalas live on private land, their survival depends on community support.
The six-year-old housing development, known as Koala Beach Estate, is proving to be an example of how human development can be more friendly to resident wildlife.
A Famous Australian
Koalas are Australia's best known tree-dwelling marsupials, coming to the ground only to move from one tree to the next. More than 20 Eucalyptus species provide sustenance for koalas, but in any given region, the marsupials eat only a few species.
"Even with the species that they do eat, koalas choose the trees in fertile areas, those that grow on farms and on river banks," said Dan Lunney, a koala researcher from the New South Wales (NSW) National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Koala numbers decreased drastically in the 20th century. Until the late 1920s millions of koalas were killed for their fur; in August 1927 alone, the last open season for koala hunting, more than half a million were killed in Queensland. Most were exported to fur factories in the United States. The Australian government accorded them legal protection in the 1930s.
However, land-clearing and fragmentation of the remaining forests have had an even greater impact, and now pose the greatest threats to the species' survival. Many koalas live in New South Wales and Queensland (QLD), two states with the highest current rate of forest clearing in Australia. In NSW, a majority of the koalas live along the north coast. But the beaches, sunny climate, and beautiful scenery are people magnets, and housing developments threaten to consume most prime koala habitat.
Protecting these coastal populations of koalas is critical. The Koala Beach Estate demonstrates that urban development does not have to mean the loss of koalas.
A Koala-friendly Development
Before development of the Koala Beach Estate near the New South Wales-Queensland border began in 1996, Steve Phillips, then a researcher with the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF), conducted detailed studies of the koala populations living in the area.
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