Koalas Overrunning Australia Island "Ark"

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Koalas in the wild and on the toy shelf are just too cute. Wildlife experts call them "charismatic megafauna" that bring about 140,000 tourists a year to Kangaroo Island.

"People come to the island to see the koalas and culling the population could damage the economy of the island and its international reputation as a haven for wildlife," admits Twyford. While culling the koala the way deer are sometimes managed in the United States is not illegal, it is "not an appropriate management option."

Instead, the government spends about U.S. $160 per koala in the sterilization program in round-ups each year between January and April. Using a noose tied to a long pole, wildlife officers slip a loop around the animal's neck and steer it down the tree. Sterilization of both males and females is done in a veterinary clinic. They are back in their trees the same day.

So far the sterilization program has had no impact on tourism, reports the Australian Tourist Commission, but the koala foundation has other concerns.

"Just because there are large numbers of these animals in some places does not mean that everything is OK," Tabart says.

Inbreeding on Kangaroo Island for nearly 80 years has produced genetic defects. Random sterilization might eliminate the fittest, Tabart warns. Better, she contends, to plant more trees.

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