Koalas need tunnels, speed limits say Australian politicians

Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:16am EDT
 
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CANBERRA (Reuters) - Special koala tunnels and tougher road speed limits would help avoid one of the leading causes of death of Australia's iconic marsupial, lawmakers said on Thursday.

No-one knows how many koalas are left in the wild -- experts estimate anywhere between 43,000 to 300,000 -- but the numbers are slowly falling and road deaths are the second biggest cause.

An inquiry by the upper house Senate urged national and state government to take action to nurture the much-loved furry marsupial.

"The committee is pleased that the koala may not yet be eligible for listing as threatened. The committee believes that to have such a significant Australian icon included on the threatened species list would be national shame," its acting chairman Doug Cameron said.

It found that loss of habitat due to land clearing was the biggest risk to koalas, which live almost entirely on gum tree leaves. Numbers have also been reduced by an AIDS-like virus which causes immune deficiency and cancer.

In the north-eastern Queensland state, authorities reported more than 4,500 koalas were hit by cars over 12 years to 2009, prompting the state government to commit to "koala-friendly" designs for main road construction.

Some areas of dense koala populations also have special koala-proof fences around major roads, and tunnels which allow the animals to cross safely underneath.

The Senate inquiry recommended local governments introduce lower speed limits around known koala areas, install koala-proof fencing on major roads, and build more tunnels and bridges to allow koalas to cross roads safely.

(Reporting by James Grubel, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

 
<p>A Koala named 'Elle' sits in her enclosure at Wildlife World in Sydney June 28, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne</p>