Australian Koala Foundation
|Founded||17 January 1986|
|Focus||Long-term conservation of the wild koala|
|Method||Research, education, legislation, mopping and planning|
|Deborah Tabart, OAM|
The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) is an international not-for-profit scientific organisation that aims to diminish the threats to the survival of koalas and in doing so raise the awareness of the global community to help save endangered fauna and flora. It is the principal non-profit, non-governmental organisation dedicated to the conservation and effective management of the wild koala and its habitat.
The koala lives predominantly on a diet of eucalyptus plants. Many of these trees are being cleared each year. The primary focus of the AKF is getting new legislation in place to protect Koala trees. The organisation receives no form of government funding by choice, because this leaves the AKF to speak freely for Koalas without the constraints of government. Therefore, the AKF relies on donations, sponsorship, and fundraising to finance its ongoing work. AKF research indicates that somewhere between 52,000 and 87,000 koalas remain in the wild. Local extinctions are occurring regularly, and AKF believes that the only way to protect and regenerate populations into the future is with a Koala Protection Act.
During the mid-1980s, Steve Brown, a veterinary graduate who had developed a special interest in koalas, was pursuing Ph.D studies at the University of Queensland, focusing on a not uncommon pathological condition in koalas, cystic ovaries. This condition was associated with low reproductive rates. He provided evidence to suggest that chlamydial disease may be affecting population dynamics of wild koala colonies. As a result of his studies he became convinced that chlamydial disease was a major threat to the species, given the widespread occurrence of the organism. This conviction led him to seek support for the establishment of a body which could fund research into the koala and its problems.
In 1985, when Barry Scott was asked to manage the Oasis Tourist Gardens, he met Steve Brown who was acting as the honorary veterinary consultant to a colony of disease free koalas that lived there. Steve was a passionate advocate for the koala and he inspired Barry who suggested that a Foundation for the koala be formed. Together they began to gather friends and supporters around them to form an organisation to help cure koala diseases and save their declining numbers.
A constitution was drawn up and on 17 January 1986 a Certificate of Incorporation (no. 1262) was issued in the name of the Australian Koala Association Inc. This name was changed on 3 October 1986 to the Australian Koala Foundation Inc. Later the word Inc. was dropped.
In those early days, Barry Scott travelled from Brisbane to Perth, Adelaide and Sydney, setting up branches and bringing people together who would form the basic structure of the AKF's honorary support.
Initially the focus of the Australian Koala Foundation was to 'raise $5 million to save the koala'. At the beginning the general consensus was that the disease commonly known as chlamydia was the major threat to koalas and that it needed to be cured so the population could be saved. It didn’t take long, however, to realise that habitat destruction was and is the main cause of the koala’s problems. The direction of the AKF moved towards addressing the loss of habitat and reversing it.
Deborah Tabart OAM has been leading the Australian Koala Foundation as CEO since 1988 and is recognised around the world as an advocate for koalas, or simply as 'the Koala Woman'.
Today, the AKF uses science, politics, and a global support base to rally for change at the legislative, developmental, and personal level.
"No Tree No Me" is the slogan for the AKF. It was coined by the AKF’s creative supporter, Dick Marks, in 1994 and has become an appropriate slogan for the foundation as they focus on the fight for habitat conservation of the koala. This slogan is known in households all around Australia.
Conservation and research
The AKF has mapped over four million hectares of land for their Koala Habitat Atlas (see below). The AKF believes that captive breeding programs for koalas are not a solution for the conservation of wild koala populations. Instead, conservation relies on the integrity of wild populations, their genetic diversity, and retention of habitat.
The AKF has several ongoing projects dedicated to saving the wild koala through conserving its habitat and raising funds to enable the AKF to continue running despite its non-profit status. These include:
- Koala Beach: This housing estate in northern New South Wales was the result of collaboration between The Ray Group of developers and the AKF. It is the first property to be master planned and designed with the protection of the environment as its priority, with the community making conscious compromises to its lifestyle so that it can co-exist with wild koalas.
- Koala Habitat Atlas: This project involves the mapping, identifying, and quantifying of koala habitat throughout the koala's geographic range in eastern Australia. It aims to identify which trees are preferentially used by koalas, and to identify and rank koala habitat on a shire by shire basis. The growing database has been designed to assist land-use planners by providing information on the occurrence and relative importance of suitable koala habitat so that informed and effective decisions on koala habitat conservation and management can be made.
- Koala Protection Act: Presently, the AKF's primary focus is the Koala Protection Act. Current legislation solely focuses on the koalas, not their habitats. It is insufficient in providing the level of protection koalas need. The Koala Protection Act will thus focus on protecting trees and pushing the Australian government to treat koalas with respect as Australia’s national treasures, deserving of protection and long-term survival. The act has been modeled upon America's Bald Eagle Act.
- Koala Army: The AKF recruits people from all over the world to join the Koala Army. The Koala Army is essential for the AKF in their campaign for a Koala Protection Act. The Army is asked to spread the word, and is often encouraged to contact their Federal member about Koala issues.
- Act or Axe: Act or Axe has been an initiative of the AKF’s since 2007 when it was decided that the Australian Federal Government and its elected representatives needed to understand the Koala and its trees should and must be considered as part of their electoral responsibilities. The Federal Government is the 'custodian' of the Koala. Not zoos, not international zoos, not wildlife sanctuaries, not the average Australian, but the Australian Government. There are 128 Federally elected representatives in Koala habitat of Australia, and the AKF is asking these politicians to support a Koala Protection Act. Members of the public can visit Act or Axe online, and view their electorate. Here they can see Koala numbers and habitat remaining, plus comments from CEO Deborah Tabart OAM, or ‘Koala Woman’. If a federal politician supports a Koala Protection Act, they receive an ‘Act’ score, and if they fail to respond, or do not support, they receive an ‘Axe’ score.
- Quinlan's:  Quinlan’s is a 40 hectare property of Australian bush, at Gheerulla near Kenilworth inland from the Queensland Sunshine Coast. The property was named in honour of the couple, Peter and Julanne Quinlan, who bequeathed it to the AKF. Deborah (AKF CEO) took on the ambitious task of establishing Quinlan’s as a one-off bushland showplace asset that embodies the AKF values. The site is to be used for research on climate change, habitat restoration, and in time it is hoped that Koala will come to use the area as a refuge.
It is safe to say that the AKF has made a difference in its 20 years of operation, and all without government funding. Its most outstanding achievements are as follows.
In 2003, the Queensland State Government listed South East Queensland's koalas as 'vulnerable' under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 after the AKF's research made compelling findings. The AKF has appealed on multiple occasions to both state and federal governments, but the governments have failed to make any substantial changes to legislature affording the wild koala effective protection.
The partnership between the AKF and the Ray Group has resulted in Koala Beach, a residential estate that is koala-friendly and proof that development and wildlife protection are not necessarily incompatible. The AKF is the world's largest funding body of koala research. Research findings include the contribution made by koalas to Australia's tourism industry and viability studies on koala populations in various bioregions.
More than 40,000 km² of land has been mapped for the Koala Habitat Atlas. Unlike other mapping projects, the Atlas does not merely pinpoint the location of individuals in the species. It displays the occurrence of suitable koala habitat (even if there are no koalas there at present) that can be 'restocked' in future if necessary. More than 1,000 sites were identified in South East Queensland alone.
The AKF is recognised as the source of choice for information on koalas. Every year, staff members receive and respond to over 10,000 queries and requests for information. These inquiries come from a diverse range of people, including students, land managers and documentary makers. The AKF's website records almost one million hits each year. The foundation established an ecolabelling initiative where pastoralists who actively support koala habitat preservation receive the koala stamp of approval.
Save the Koala Month
September is Save the Koala Month. The AKF runs an annual fundraising campaign called Save the Koala Month each September. Save the Koala Day is held on the last Friday of that month. People from all over the world are encouraged to help sell Save the Koala Month merchandise such as temporary tattoos, stickers and badges, whether as individuals, businesses or school groups. Supporters are also encouraged to fundraise with donation boxes or events, returning their funds to the AKF at the end of the month. Incentives are available for different levels of fundraising.
The main AKF office and shop are located in Brisbane. There are also "Friends of the AKF" branches in New York and Washington.
- "About | Australian Koala Foundation". www.savethekoala.com. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- "Koala Protection Act | Australian Koala Foundation". www.savethekoala.com. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- "Koala Habitat Atlas | Australian Koala Foundation". www.savethekoala.com. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- "Nature Conservation (Koala) Conservation Plan 2006" (PDF). Queensland Government. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 March 2017. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
- "Ballarat koalas under threat despite protection overlay". www.abc.net.au. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- "Koala populations at Gunnedah under threat from coal project". Clarence Valley Daily Examiner. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- Johnson, Stephen (27 August 2014). "The Australian".
- "Noosa koalas on the brink of extinction". Sunshine Coast Daily. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- "Act or Axe | Australian Koala Foundation". www.savethekoala.com. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- "About Quinlan's | Australian Koala Foundation". www.savethekoala.com. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- Steve Austin & Peter Spearritt (29 July 2005). "Australian Koala Foundation's Deborah Tabart". ABC Queensland. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
- "September is Save the Koala month". Central Queensland News. APN News & Media Ltd. 2 September 2011. Retrieved 11 March 2012.