Assessments of the conservation status of koalas and trends in their population have been based on mostly unstated false assumptions about their pre-European status and on notions that either they were naturally regulated by their predators, chiefly Aborigines and dingoes, or that they somehow ‘self-regulated’ their fecundity. Closer examination of their ecological history suggests that frequent mild burning by Aborigines maintained eucalypt forests having fewer, mostly healthy trees, fewer young trees, canopies comprising mostly hard and dry leaves with low nutrient content, and, consequently, very few koalas. European explorers did not see them because they were solitary animals occupying large home ranges. After burning was disrupted, koalas responded to increased food resources in dense new growth of eucalypts and in stressed trees continually turning over new foliage. An export skin industry flourished. When their food resources were depleted by clearing or ringbarking of new growth and/or death of declining stands during droughts, koalas crashed back to low levels. Koalas continue to irrupt and decline through much of their range according to changing land management. Wildlife managers should re-assess their status and their management from a clear historical and ecological perspective.
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Vol. 44 • No. 6–7