Team Koala president Jenny Hayes at the burnt-out Cudgen Nature Reserve.
Team Koala president Jenny Hayes at the burnt-out Cudgen Nature Reserve. John Gass

Koala colony still at risk

KOALA experts fear last week's bushfire at the Cudgen Nature Reserve could still strike a killing blow to the area's koala population, despite no injured animals having been found.

The bushfire burnt out 95ha of the reserve and endangered a koala habitat on the proposed site of the Kings Forest development.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary senior veterinarian Michael Pyne said the fact no koalas were brought in during or following the fire did not mean none had died.

"Unfortunately in a bushfire situation, animals either get burnt to death or escape," he said.

"They are still losing their habitat and are forced to move into unfamiliar territory as a result of bushfire."

Tweed Shire Council's Koala Connections project manager Sally Jacka said National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers had inspected the area without finding any injured wildlife.

"It appears the fire was not particularly hot in the known koala habitat and did not get up into the tree canopy," Ms Jacka said.

"As far as we can ascertain, no koalas were lost or injured because of the fire.

"However, the location is one of the strongholds of Tweed Shire's coastal koala population and it's of great concern that fires occurred there.

"Koala numbers on the Tweed coast are at such a low level. Any losses through fire could be the death knell of the population."

A study into koala numbers on the Tweed Coast in 2010 found the marsupials' plight in the area was dire.

Team Koala president Jenny Hayes said the situation was "extremely desperate".

"The situation seems to be far more serious than we could have predicted," she said.

"This is definitely the last stand for the koalas.

"Kings Forest, which is set to be the site of a 5000-home township, should it be approved by the State Government, is one of the only areas on the Tweed Coast where koalas remain."

Ms Hayes called for an investigation into the fire.

Firefighters have been reported saying fires in the reserve over the past decade may have been deliberately lit.

There are only three colonies of koala left on the Tweed Coast and this is one of them," Ms Hayes said.

"It's sickening.

"Of course there would be no evidence of casualties as the fire would incinerate them."