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Saving the Day: koalas in crisis

Saving the Day: koalas in crisis Henryk Sadura
11 Feb
2017
With Queensland koala numbers in free-fall, a novel idea suggests using daylight savings time to protect the species

In the past two decades, koala populations in Brisbane, Australia have been taking a severe beating. Numbers have plummeted by 80 per cent, as vulnerable populations have been savaged by disease (particularly Chlamydia, but also conjunctivitis, pneumonia, and urinary and reproductive tract infections), habitat loss (75 per cent of the main koala food tree species are declining in number as a result of ‘dieback’ – a gradual dying of trees), dog attacks and traffic collisions.

It’s the last of these threats that a conglomerate of Australian biologists and conservationists is targeting. It has spent a full year tracking the movement patterns of wild koalas, comparing them with the traffic patterns of roads where they are often being killed. At the moment, many nocturnal animals – including koalas, kangaroos and wallabies – begin their night time activities (which include crossing these busy roads) while the evening commuter rush hour is still underway, leading to hundreds of koala deaths each year. The conclusions led the team to propose shifting the time zone of southeast Queensland – of which Brisbane is the major urban hub – to daylight savings time, enabling commuters to complete their journeys in the light and before the animals take to the roads.

If we can reduce the number of animals hit on the roads by making a simple change like this, then conservation and road safety should become part of the debate on daylight saving

‘Collisions with wildlife are most likely to occur during twilight or darkness,’ says Robbie Wilson, researcher at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences. Wilson and his fellow researchers estimate that shifting to daylight savings time would reduce koala collisions by up to eight per cent during the week, and as much as 11 per cent at the weekend. ‘If we can reduce the number of animals hit on the roads by making a simple change like this, then conservation and road safety should become part of the debate on daylight saving,’ he argues. ‘The flip side of this research is that we don’t know the effect daylight savings will have on diurnal animals – those active in the daytime – such as snakes, lizards and birds, so future research should also incorporate studies of these species.’

This was published in the February 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

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