Koalas: An Iconic and Important Australian Species
Koalas are one of the most recognised animals around the world! National Geographic conducted a world-wide survey of the top five iconic animals. The Koala featured in the top five along with Elephant, Lion, Whale and Panda. Koalas are important to the Australian economy. It has been estimated that they create over 9000 jobs and contribute between $1.1 billion and $2.5 billion per year to tourism in Australia. They are also important to some regional economies. Statistics by the Economic Development Unit of Port Macquarie-Hastings Council show koalas are worth around $50 million p.a. locally.
Koalas are an important ‘flagship species’ meaning that they attract support for conservation. Koalas are also an ‘umbrella species’. By protecting koala habitat, conservation outcomes can be improved for multiple other species that share their habitat. One example is the beautiful but critically endangered Swift Parrot of which there are <2000 left in the wild. While Koalas love munching on Forest Red Gum and Swamp Mahogany leaves, Swift Parrots love the winter bounty of nectar these eucalypts provide. Conserving koala habitat is therefore very important!
Koalas are also important culturally. They feature in a wide number of Aboriginal dreamtime stories. Some of these stories describe the role, and appropriate treatment, of the koala in helping maintain the health of country. While the ecological role of the koala has not been scientifically described, the amount of leaf that a koala consumes each day and their high scat deposition rates, have led many to consider the role of the koala in thinning the canopy to enable light penetration to the forest floor, their role in nutrient recycling and their role in thinning the canopy to reduce intense canopy fires.