An orphan koala joey recovers at a refuge in southeast Queensland.
An orphan koala joey recovers at a refuge in southeast Queensland.

Koalas at risk of being wiped out in Australia

AUSTRALIA is in the grip of a hidden animal welfare crisis that could see one of our most cherished and famous creatures wiped from existence.

While issues like cruelty and puppy farming rightly dominate headlines, causing outrage and legislative change, animal welfare groups say tree-clearing is a far more serious problem that's being ignored.

A new report by RSPCA and WWF-Australia, released today, highlights the worsening impact of tree-clearing across the east coast of the country - and koalas are on the frontline.

"The enormous extent of suffering and death caused makes tree-clearing the single greatest animal welfare crisis," the report found.

"Yet it is largely unmonitored and unstudied, and neglected in wildlife policy and law."

Tree-clearing rates due to urban sprawl, logging and development have more than tripled in recent years and Australia's east coast now is one of 11 global deforestation hot spots.

"Even if the animals escape the grinding bulldozers and crashing trees, native animals face deprivation or death, crowding into remaining habitats that are already full," WWF-Australia boss Dermot O'Gorman said.

"As they search for a new home they are often hit by vehicles, attacked by other animals or tangled in fences."

Tens of millions of wild animals suffer injuries, displacement and death every year due to the bulldozing of their forest and woodland habitats, the report revealed.

In Queensland alone, WWF-Australia estimates tree-clearing kills about 34 million native mammals, birds and reptiles annually.

In 2010, it was estimated that the state's koala population stood at just 15,000.

To put the tree-clearing crisis in perspective, between 2009 and 2014 more than 10,000 koalas were admitted to four wildlife hospitals across southeast Queensland.

Nationally, the Australian Koala Foundation believes the koala population - which is concentrated across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, is less than 80,000.

In addition to koalas, tree-clearing victims include mammals like the feathertail glider, a range of native birds and countless reptiles and frogs.

Clare Gover, a wildlife carer from southeast Queensland, said the koala is being pushed "further and further to the brink".

"I think people would be absolutely shocked if they knew how many koalas and other wildlife were being killed every year," Ms Gover said.

"The koala is a protected species, it's listed as vulnerable. There's no point protecting the species if we don't protect its habitat.

"Your grandkids may never see them in the wild and that's heartbreaking."

WWF-Australia and RSPCA have called for four major changes to alleviate the crisis caused by tree-clearing.

They include stronger restrictions on tree-clearing, the mandatory survey and relocation of native wildlife, more strategic rescued animal relocation policies and increased funding for research and rescue.

News Corp Australia has contacted the Queensland Government for comment.