Wild dogs push threatened koala populations towards extinction

Wild dogs are killing koalas – too many koalas – pushing vulnerable populations to the brink of extinction, according to recent studies.

These predators (dingoes and their hybrids) are putting one of the world’s most iconic animals under stress and, without intervention, vulnerable-listed populations in Queensland, NSW and the ACT could be wiped out.

A koala with joey in the fork of a tree

A four-year study by Australia’s leading koala conservation researchers, Beyer et al 2018, identifies wild dogs as “by far the most significant threat to the species” within their research area.

It confirms that in Queensland’s Moreton Bay region, predation by wild dogs, carpet pythons and domestic dogs accounted for 63% of deaths. Of the mortalities caused by dogs, 82% were caused by “dingoes and dingo-hybrids” while only 2% were attributed to domestic dogs.

“While vehicle collisions and disease are undoubtedly important causes of mortality in this region, wild dogs have not been adequately recognised as a major threat to koalas,” it says.

Centre for Invasive Species Solutions National Wild Dog Management Coordinator Greg Mifsud says while this should be a wake-up call for the community, the project also sends a message of hope.

“While there are other threats to koalas such as habitat loss and disease, research shows that dingoes and wild dogs are killing these animals and posing a direct threat to their survival,” he said.

“The good news is that we do have ethical, targeted strategies that can effectively control dingoes and wild dogs that attack and kill koalas.

“If we don’t act and help these animals, these struggling populations are doomed.”

A recent research project, led by Dr Matthew Gentle, of the Pest Animal Research Centre, Biosecurity Queensland, has made an exciting breakthrough for koala populations and other native species under pressure from wild dogs.

Matthew, and his team of wildlife researchers, have found a way to identify those canine individuals attacking and killing koalas.

“We’ve found that, by sampling genetic material, particularly traces of saliva from prey, we can isolate the DNA and, with subsequent genotyping, we can verify the predator,” Matthew said.

“This could help wild dog management programs to specifically target and remove problem individuals and improve koala population survival.”

Interestingly, the research also found most koalas had only one genotype on them, suggesting they were killed by a single dog, but that some wild dogs were responsible for multiple koala deaths.

Greg said this sends an important message to the community that any conservation strategies that ignore this significant contributor to koala deaths will fail to halt population declines.