Idea of introducing koalas in NZ after bushfires 'rings alarm bells' for conservationist

Source: 1News

The prospect of bringing koalas to New Zealand "rings alarm bells" for a conservation biologist who specialises in studying the science behind introducing species.

"Baby Koala 'up a gum tree'.

Last week a petition to Jacinda Ardern was launched on Change.org calling for koalas to be re-homed in New Zealand after it said they were becoming "functionally extinct in Australia".

The petition has since gathered more than 6,000 signatures. 

But Dr James Russell who is a conservation biologist at the University of Auckland says he cannot think of any over-riding arguments that warrant bringing the species to New Zealand.

"When you take a species out of their native environment they can behave quite differently," he told 1 NEWS.

"Species don't always do what you expect them to do.

"If we bring koalas to New Zealand and they don't do well and they die out then it was a bad idea.

"And if we bring them over and they spread and become pests it was also a bad idea," he said.

Dr Russell cited possums as an example of the negative effects a species can have on our ecology.

Brought to New Zealand from Australia in 1837, the species soon invaded native forests and became classed as pests, not to mention carriers of tuberculosis.

Dr Russell also noted that although the petition claimed New Zealand has 28,575 hectares planted in eucalypts, this is classed as plantation forest.

"It is only a small proportion of plantation forest, 3.5 per cent grown so it can be cut down."

He says koalas are not at a level of extinction threat where New Zealand needs to step in to save the species.

"We have enough conservation issues with our own kākāpō and takahē," he said.

"We have enough to focus on ourselves and who is going to foot the bill?"

A spokesperson for Jacinda Ardern said yesterday the focus right now is “providing firefighters and defence logistics to assist getting the fires under control”.

“Our focus is getting the fires under control so they [the koalas] can stay in their natural habitat," the spokesperson told 1 NEWS.