Koala advocates say they are seriously concerned about the survival of Tweed’s endangered koala population after volunteers found five koalas diseased and/or dead over a three-day period last month.
Friends of the Koala (FoK) member David Norris says three of the koalas have died and the other two face an uncertain future after rescue efforts in late July.
He says volunteers found the creatures less than twenty kilometres apart in Pottsville and Bogangar.
‘Three of the koalas were found clumped together in the bushland south of Kellehers Road and north of the Black Rocks sports field,’ he said in an email to Echonetdaily.
A fourth koala was already dead when volunteers found it nearby under a log and a fifth koala was later rescued from Clothiers Creek Road in Bogangar.
Volunteers took all five koalas to the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital where workers said the four living koalas had chlamydia but couldn’t say how the fifth one had died.
Pottsville koalas at higher risk of chlamydia, says advocate
Currumbin Wildlife Hospital workers reportedly had to put down two koalas due to the severity of illness and are still caring for the last two.
Mr Norris is also a community representative on the Tweed Shire Council’s Koala Management Committee and says the capture of this many diseased koalas so close together is unprecedented at Black Rocks.
But he says Pottsville residents have gathered photographic and veterinary evidence showing koalas in the area have higher rates of chlamydia than other koalas in the Tweed shire.
The findings reflect research led by University of Queensland Professor Clive McAlpine that shows koalas living in fragmented habitats are at a greater risk of getting chlamydia than koalas elsewhere because populations are denser.
High-density living for koalas can lead to more sexual activity, territorial aggression, a lack of nutrition and other stresses from nearby land-use.
Men’s shed DA worries koala advocate
Mr Norris says he is calling for governments to take stress factors into account more when evaluating development applications and is concerned about the possible expansion of the Pottsville and District Men’s Shed (PADMS) on Black Rocks Sports Field.
Shed operators have applied for more time to keep the shed on the oval, as an initial temporary period of five years granted by the Tweed Shire Council expires.
But Mr Norris says the latest application is to be decided by state authorities.
The PADMS has also applied for an extension of the building but Mr Norris says with an Osprey birds’ nest nearby, and curlews and koalas within fifteen metres of the shed, any ‘human-related disturbance does cause stress’ and authorities should ‘apply precautionary principle’.
Koalas versus ‘old men’
The so-called ‘precautionary principle’ essentially means avoiding all possible risks.
Mr Norris says the Black Rocks Sports Ground is three hundred metres within the Pottsville wetland and is at the junction of three koala corridors.
Mr Norris has also referred to koala ecologist Dr Steve Phillips’ opinion the land should be returned to koala habitat because, he says, of a ‘strong likelihood’ the mens’ shed project will impact on the Pottsville wild koala population.
But Pottsville and District Mens Shed Founder and Inaugural President Alan May says he has known David Norris since 2013 and Mr Norris doesn’t support mens’ sheds.
Green versus green?
Mr May says Mr Norris is high on rhetoric but low on facts and nature has a way of culling wildlife so that the majority of animals will continue to survive.
He says as bad as chlamydia is, it won’t affect all koalas.
‘David would suggest koalas and humans can’t live in a symbiotic relationship,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘To make a suggestion that a five-metre extension to a building would negatively impact on koalas is ludicrous,’ Mr May said.
‘I support “green” views but I do have a problem with “green” views that neglect other issues in society,’ he said.
‘It would do a lot more good to get rid of feral cats than a few old men trying to make a positive change in their lives.’
Mens’ shed brings much-needed ‘self-worth’, says founder
Mr May says 72 men are currently using the shed to regain a sense of self-worth, usually after retiring from decades of full-time work.
When Echonetdaily spoke to Mr May, he said he just come from the mens’ shed in Pottsville where men were making painting easels for primary school students in Burringbar and nesting boxes for wildlife as well as ‘playing cards and drinking tea and coffee’.
He says he hopes the impact of the mens’ shed on mens’ health in the Pottsville district will be significant.
Meanwhile, Mr Norris says the shed was originally supposed to be demountable and relocatable.
He says the Tweed Shire Council is looking at a master plan for Black Rocks Sports Field and has already rejected proposals for a fun day there, along with ideas for tennis courts.
Sick and dying koalas ‘a bit of a shock’
The discovery of the sick, dead and dying koalas was ‘quite a bit of a shock’ to rescuers, says Mr Norris, describing it as ‘a wake-up call that precautionary principle needs to be applied’.
But precautionary principle application is voluntary and non-enforceable.
Mr Norris told Echonetdaily the council is reluctant to use precautionary principle because developers may decide to sue the council for refusing building applications.
He says New South Wales needs stronger biodiversity and conservation laws.
State laws were changed under the Mike Baird government, with koala advocates describing the changes as devastating for wildlife.
As for koalas and other wildlife versus expansion of the Pottsville and District Mens Shed, Mr May says ‘we’re all trying to co-exist’.
Tweed Shire council responds
A spokesperson for Tweed Shire Council told Echonetdaily that they are following up on the rescued animals with the licensed rescue and rehabilitation organisation, Friends of the Koala.
‘Disease is prevalent throughout koala populations with 100-280 koalas per year rescued in the Northern Rivers between 2010 and 2017. Disease is the greatest reported factor contributing to the need to rescue and treat koalas, representing 56 per cent of all attributable incidents for the Northern Rivers between 2010 and 2017. While this number of animals being rescued at the one time is concerning, there is no evidence to suggest that there is any link with any specific activity in that area,’ said the spokesperson.
‘Council is currently finalising the planning requirements to enable construction of a koala a holding facility at Pottsville that will form part of a key research project into the vaccination of koalas against chlamydia.’
Tweed Council are also developing a Masterplan for the Black Rocks Sports Ground that recognises the ecological value of the area that will be completed later this year.
‘Council is currently assessing the public submissions and specific issues raised by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment in relation to the Men’s Shed licence extension application,’ confirmed the council spokesperson.