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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 14:07 GMT
20,000 koalas face slaughter
Koala in tree, AFP
Koalas feed off eucalyptus trees
An Australian state government is considering whether to kill 20,000 koalas living on Kangaroo Island off South Australia.

A report by South Australia's Wildlife Advisory Committee has said that the koalas must die in order to preserve the island's habitat.

Graphic BBC
Some ecologists support the cull because the marsupial population on the island has ballooned to 33,000 and there is not enough food for them all.

But critics of the plan say killing the koalas - one of the world's most recognised tourism symbols - could damage the state's travel industry.

The advisory committee said the state government's current population control polices, based on sterilisation and relocation, were too "soft".

The report said the false perception that koalas were cute, docile animals was adding to the population problem.

Jobs 'at risk'

In 1996, the island's koala population was estimated at 5,000. A government taskforce called for a cull of 2,000 of them, but there was public outrage and the cull never took place.

Japanese tourist holding a koala, AFP
Koalas are popular with tourists
Adelaide University ecologist David Paton said the koala population on the island had now reached unsustainable levels, and the eucalyptus trees on which they fed were being seriously damaged.

He urged the state government to take the report's advice and cull up to 20,000 koalas to allow the trees to recover.

Otherwise, he said, the image of Kangaroo Island could one day show that "virtually every tree was dead and lying underneath those trees were the carcasses of koalas that had starved to death".

But the state's environment minister, Iain Evans, said he was against a cull, fearing it would damage tourism.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the damage to be done to the South Australian economy, South Australian jobs, South Australian families, would certainly be significant and the government is not prepared to run that risk," he said.

See also:

26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Call for action on koalas
06 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Australia finds its lost animals
03 Dec 98 | Sci/Tech
The making of the marsupials
27 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Australia
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