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Claws out over park lands koala sanctuary bid

Local

A proposal to build a koala sanctuary in Adelaide’s park lands has stirred up Adelaide City councillors, with staff accused of using “distorted” data in a report estimating the cost at up to $10 million.

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The report was discussed by elected members on Tuesday night, following a council decision in January to investigate Deputy Lord Mayor Alexander Hyde’s suggestion to partner with Adelaide Koala Rescue to build a “small community-run facility” for the rescue, treatment and rehabilitation of koalas and other locally rescued wildlife in the park lands.

According to the report, building a sanctuary would cost between $5 million to $10 million, while caring for the koalas would carry an annual bill of $75,000 per animal.  

The report said the impact on park lands vegetation would also be extensive, with the council’s sustainability policy manager Maria Zotti telling Tuesday’s meeting that koalas eat the leaves of up to 1000 trees in their lifetime, with only 9859 trees in the park lands suitable for koala consumption.  

She said she had spoken to koala experts at Cleland Wildlife Park, Adelaide Koala Rescue, the International Centre for Koala Excellence and National Parks and Wildlife, who said there were “quite prescriptive and complex” legislative requirements that stipulate how koala sanctuaries can operate.

“It is an expensive exercise,” she said.

“We spoke to the director of National Parks and Wildlife, who also echoed what Cleland said in that there wasn’t a need for a facility because… the other existing wildlife rescue facilities are able to scale up anyway.”

But Hyde said staff had misinterpreted the intention of his motion, which was lodged in the wake of January’s Kangaroo Island and Adelaide Hills bushfires.

He also said the report’s data was “distorted” as it only cited costs quoted by Cleland Wildlife Park.  

Hyde said that he wanted the council to partner with a separate organisation to run a koala facility in the park lands, rather than spend ratepayer money.

“The intent of the motion was to simply say we know that this is an important issue… we have the park lands, we have hundreds and hundreds of hectares of space, if we were to cordon off a patch of dirt would someone be interested in taking care of koalas inside the park lands?” he said.

“Funny enough there is a bit of koala politics around and everyone has their patch, not too dissimilar to koalas actually. 

“I’m concerned that the report has been entirely and solely influenced by one institution and we haven’t actually sought to gather information from other institutions.”

Hyde said Cleland Wildlife Park would “in all likelihood see the establishment as something else that takes care of these animals in competition with them”.  

He also questioned whether other not-for-profit koala rescue organisations spent up to $75,000 per year per koala.

Zotti said the price estimate was based on advice from multiple experts.

She said organisations such as Adelaide Koala Rescue spend less money because they rely on volunteers looking after injured koalas in their homes.

Area councillor Anne Moran, who voted in favour of Hyde’s original motion, accused him of “attacking” the report and “being offensive towards a staff member”.

“What you expected from this report has been given to you – it was a stupid idea but a very good report,” she said.  

“You be quiet and stop this interrogation now.  

“This is untenable – you are being offensive.”  

Fellow area councillor Robert Simms described the report as “very comprehensive”.  

“It is an expensive proposal but I appreciated the work,” he said. 

But north ward councillor Mary Couros, who seconded Hyde’s original motion, said she would prefer a park lands koala sanctuary that was run by a private company, not the council. 

“I think the whole concept or idea of having a wildlife centre in the park lands is a great idea,” she said.  

“For people coming for a conference for two days it would be a great opportunity for them to spend some time in the city.”  

Councillors will vote to note the report at next Tuesday’s formal council meeting.

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