Koalas Welfare

About this Item
SpeakersJones The Hon Richard


The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [6.19]: I bring to the attention of honourable members the problems of koala handling and the vigorous campaign being waged against one of our national symbols for the sake of tourist dollars. I welcomed the announcement a few months ago of the Minister for Agriculture, the Hon. Richard Amery, that from 1 January 1997 the standards governing the handling of koalas would change. Currently koalas are placed on an object, such as a stuffed toy or plush carpet, while tourists are photographed with them. The koala handler gives the koala to the tourist for the photo to be taken. The tourist then hands the poor little koala back to the handler, who passes it to the next tourist. This process continues until the koala cannot take anymore and becomes aggressive. No doubt this practice causes stress to koalas.

Only young koalas can be handled by tourists, and not for any considerable length of time because of the stress they suffer. The proposed change to the handling of koalas will ensure that they remain sitting on a fixed perch while the tourist or visitor strokes, cuddles and touches the koala. Honourable members
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will note that this change only prohibits the act that stresses the koala the most - the constant passing to and fro. If anything, the proposal of the Minister is a minor change. So much more could be done for koalas held in captivity. The association of wildlife and fauna parks has 34 members, including industry leaders, and the Taronga and Western Plains zoos. I have been advised that 33 of those members welcome the change. Only one wildlife park does not want the change to proceed.

That park and a Japanese tourist company are urging that the practice of passing the koala be maintained. Obviously their reasons come from a financial perspective rather than an animal welfare perspective. The company is spending an incredible amount of time, money and effort to maintain this abhorrent practice instead of changing its marketing strategies to promote eco-friendly tourism. As more tourists visit New South Wales, especially in the lead-up to the 2000 Olympics, everything possible should be done to protect our native wildlife and our environment. Koala handling is such a small issue. As I have already said, the proposed change has the support of many members of the community and all but one wildlife park. Mr Amery's office advises that it has received hundreds of letters, including letters from the more eco-conscious tourist operators, commending him for his decision and also asking why the change was not made sooner.