Why some of the largest and healthiest koala populations are found in cattle grazing areas

James Nason, 02/06/2023

SOME of the largest and healthiest koala populations in Queensland can be found in regional areas co-existing with cattle grazing operations.

This is not the sort of message that animal rights groups are likely to want the public to hear, particularly in a week when they have paid for a billboard in the regional capital of Rockhampton attacking farmers and livestock as a primary cause of koala deaths in Australia.

It is also a message that is not widely reported, with most media attention on koalas in Queensland focused on the State’s south east corner, where urban development, car strikes, fires, attacks by dogs and the spread of disease have been identified as the main reasons for dramatically decreasing koala populations.

University of Queensland koala ecologist Dr Bill Ellis (below) has spent the past 35 years studying koala populations all over Queensland.

In contrast to claims that cattle are the root cause of koala loss in Queensland, his published research has demonstrated that some of the state’s most thriving koala populations can be found in close proximity to grazing operations.

This he attributes to the fact that grazing operations often manage weeds, reduce feral predators and minimise the risk of high intensity bushfires, which contribute to improved habitats for koalas and can increase the capacity of those areas to sustain koalas.

“The thing about farmers and graziers, they are actually connected to the land, and they’re connected to it through their children as well – they want their kids to experience having wildlife on their land, so no matter how much of a gnarly old farmer you are, you’ve got that softness for the landscape and the environment there,” Dr Ellis said, when contacted by Beef Central this week.

Dr Ellis is focused on improving outcomes for koalas, but takes a very different approach to the animal rights group model of using billboards to attack and vilify farmers and livestock production.

His approach is based on decades of on-the-ground research, following where evidence and direct experience with rural landscapes and landholders has lead him.

That has been to the view that landholders who manage the landscape are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

He sees particular sense in providing incentives to make it profitable for graziers to keep and enhance ecological values on their properties.

Koala populations increasing

Dr Ellis said that while South East Queensland’s koalas receive most of the attention, most of Queensland’s koalas live outside the south east.

Intriguingly, in the current environment, he regularly hears people saying they are seeing more koalas now than they have before, as he travels around regional Queensland.

“There could be many reasons for these observations,” he said. “But in some areas it makes sense that the koala populations were doing well, because predators were being controlled, cattle gazing on private property and state forests was reducing undergrowth leading to less intense fires, and their habitat may be improving.

“There is no doubt about the impact historical clearing has had,” Dr Ellis said, “but these kinds of observations shine a light on the possibilities in the regions to work together and improve the lot of the koala.

“This is a unique opportunity we have”.

Koalas were also far more resilient than many people realised he said.

Dr Ellis studying koalas on a grazing property in Central Queensland.

“They are like a lot of the animals in the outback, they are incredibly resilient, so they persist in very harsh environments.

“It is amazing the properties we turn up to, we see a few scattered trees, you get at best a line of trees, and you turn up a koala.

“These are the sort of landscapes where we could improve their lot significantly, without a lot of effort.”

Incentivise landholders

The State Government has previously sought to buy properties to increase protected koala habitat, but Dr Ellis believes there is a good opportunity to use resources to incentivise farmers and graziers, to help them to increase and improve existing koala habitats on their properties.

“There are koalas over a lot of the State,” he said. “We don’t really need a lot of high-tech solutions, what we do need is to nourish, protect and connect viable habitat and I think one of the easiest ways to do that is to incentivise it on private properties.”

“This is where I reckon you would get the most bang for your buck – go on people’s properties and say, well, you know what, we’re talking about a five metre strip or an individual bunch of trees here. How do we make that work, and start that conversation.”

“If we have defined, connecting vegetation and we tell people this is what we want to put in there, they can say, well that is going to cost me X head of cattle, and then its about getting some support to do that.

“If there was a reward for strategically retaining or even planting some habitat, they’re the kind of things you can work out with farmers I’m sure.”

Koala-friendly beef

Taking it one step further, he also foresees potential to enable properties actively supporting koala populations to get recognition – similar to the Heart Foundation tick for example, to provide a point of difference for their product in the market place.

“Put it this way,” he said, “’koala-friendly beef’, I don’t think that’s too far fetched”.

“With the Olympics around the corner I think there is an opportunity for a renewed push to reward good stewardship of koala habitat on profitable grazing properties. The two can and do co-exist across a lot of the state.”



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  1. Allister Clein, 12/06/2023

    We operated a Rural Earthmoving Land Clearing Business in CQ area During the very early 1970 to 1990 and probably worked on 100 plus Cattle and Sheep properties from Charleville Blackall Alpha Clermont Moranbah Capella Lotus Creek Districts and seen plenty of Healthy Koala 🐨 Colony being protected by some 2 nd and 3 rd Generation Land Owners in saying that in that time we only ever had one property owner who didn’t value these great little icons but we did our very best to save there Habitat on that property most property owners would Drive us around any Know Habitats to be sure we were aware of the Koala 🐨 and keep the Dozers and Clearing at least 200 to 300 m away from the pride of their respective beautiful Koala 🐨🐨 Habitats in all the serve Droughts I have never once seen any of these Green Fruit Loops or so called friends of Animals come and help feed our staving kangaroos and Koalas in the Devastating Droughts all they do is get control of NP lock them up push in Dams leave no water for any native animals and shoot out the Goats 🐐 that keep vegetation down to help control massive 🔥 Fires that destroys every animal and every old native trees while these Green 🍏🍏 Fruit loops drive and fly around the Country they are the one who are also responsible for more Dangerous Damage to our Environment than any Livestock Producer will ever be Regards Allister Clein

  2. Rob Moore, 04/06/2023

    Well I don’t agree with you Vic- that the numbers are increasing….l have watched our section of permanently watered stretch of creek with its abundant amount of gum trees for 60 years of memory.Prior to the 79 to83 drought there was always a chorus down the creek when they all got going.
    That drought which I think was the worst that I’ve seen( and I’ve seen far too many) seemed to wipe them out over 3 yrs.
    Some Qld Uni ppl did some research and put it down to searing heat and ticks when they got out of the tree and mostly
    Clamydia that broke their breeding cycle.
    I am fairly sure that there hasn’t been a bear on this same creek for about 30 yrs and it is definitely nothing to do with the stock that I do or don’t run – in the vicinity.
    Like restocking after a bad drought-someone has to breed there way out-if the need is there!!!
    It is that bloody simple- get the ” hand wringers” and ” accusers” fund the Uni to put some breeding pairs all along the creeks where we know they used to thrive and cut out all this emotive hogwash that surrounds this topic

  3. Mr.Leigh Harvey, 04/06/2023

    The research shows the way to ehance the koala population. Animal rights groups don’t research they just push untruth propaganda. The koala is intelligent and knows !

  4. peter luker, 04/06/2023

    I know Mr Ellis, a great guy and I agree with everything he has said, the reason for the decline in the south east corner is exactly as stated, car strikes, dog attacks and these are all linked into the urban footprint sprawl. Whilst we allow urban development to go unchecked, they decrease in habitat and food sources ( koalas dont eat all types of gum ) The decrease in safe land pockets and corridors forces Koalas to move around more than they would seeking safe refuge and food, this means crossing roads and going close to urban dwellings where unrestrained dogs attack them. Some of the best supporters to our group are landowners who run cattle properties, they are as a general rule happy to allow us on to survey populations, support fodder plantations and keep the areas generally clear from predators. Urban development will not stop, people need houses to live but Koala habitat management needs to be prioritised by establishing safe corridors and habitats.

    • Vic Jurskis, 04/06/2023

      European exploration commenced in southeast QLD with a two-day visit by Matthew Flinders in 1799. Surveyor General Oxley explored the area twice over 11 days in 1823 and 1824. He rescued two shipwrecked sailors who had lived with Aborigines for seven months and described their culture, including fighting, funerals, hunting, gathering and fishing. A penal colony was established at Redcliffe in 1824 and moved to Brisbane in 1825. Convicts were employed in farming, grazing, timbergetting and mining.
      Extensive explorations of the district were made by Captain Logan, Majors Lockyer and Cotton, Foreman Petrie and Botanist Allan Cunningham. Detailed trigonometric survey was carried out before the first land sales in 1842. No reports of koalas derive from any of these sources. Koalas irrupted in the 1890s and crashed in the Federation Drought. They crashed again in the Millennium Drought. They are increasing again.

  5. Jenny, 04/06/2023

    Wonderful article.

    Such common sense and definitely the way forward.

    Koala friendly beef would sell sell sell in the cities.

  6. Pat, 03/06/2023

    We have a known koala habitat on our Central Queensland property and it is even marked up on Queensland Globe, but in 2021 the Queensland government gave approval to a mining lease that covers the majority of the koala habitat area without any consideration of the area or the need for offsets or clearance before mining starts. More needs to be done to prevent this from happening in the future.

  7. Chris Commins, 03/06/2023

    Interesting. Koala’s are not an endangered species and in fact there has been an irruption of koala’s due to the abundance of food. When trees are not healthy, usually due to lack of mild fire or grazing, they produce epicormic growth which koala’s thrive on.
    In relation to this issue, I strongly urge interested people to read two books by one of Australia’s most eminent eucalypt scientists, Vic Jurskis. Book one, “The Great Koala Scam”, book two, “Firestick Ecology, Fair Dinkum Science in Plain English”

    • peter luker, 04/06/2023

      Chris Commins, Koalas are endangered. This is statistically a fact.

  8. Kerry, 03/06/2023

    Great article needs to be given more publicity

  9. Mick Brennan, 03/06/2023

    Agree whole heartedly. It’s only common sense fuel reduction by property owners prevent habitat loss and koala deaths. Bad fires are destructive cool fires are the key. Community perception on fires need changing. Cool fires are good for the environment. Bad fires are destructive.

  10. Rob Atkinson, 03/06/2023

    Wow, this is fantastic researched data. It is high time we set the record straight about grazing and the environment.
    We need to grab the initiative and set the record straight on so many fronts.
    We could start by informing most politicians and nearly all government bureaucrats and scientists that cattle are not the problem, that they, in fact, have a hugely positive effect on most of our environment, including the atmosphere.
    For example, there needs to be renewal of plant material to allow carbon sequestration in our soil. Soil is by far the greatest carbon storage bank.
    Perennial grass renewal can only be achieved two ways, with fire or grazing.(pruning)
    Grass needs to be at either Stage 1 or Stage 2 growth for maximum carbon sequestration. Nearly all our government managed National Parks are at Stage 3, being lignified. Rarely is there plant renewal in our National Parks or State Forests. Lignified grass and plants sequestered very little carbon. Cattle can fix this.
    A forest of trees can not sequester anywhere near the same amount of carbon as what a healthy grass pasture can.
    To really get our message to the general voting public, the industry needs to invest in a TV channel ownership, using real life documentaries and short films, on both Pay TV and Free to Air.

    • Richard Barnsley, 03/06/2023

      Sounds great but how did it work before there were cattle???

      • Rob Atkinson, 05/06/2023

        It worked with fire.
        There weren’t enough grass eating animals before European settlement.
        Fire dominated the landscape.
        There were less trees than there are now, even with all the tree clearing.
        The early explorers such as Ludwig Leichhardt struggled to find kangaroos to eat, they saw smoke nearly every day on their expedition from the Darling Downs to Darwin.

  11. Helen, 03/06/2023

    Please get this information to our children. This research is vitally important for our rural communities survival. Respecting lifestyle and environment. Our children need to know about both. Thank you Helen

  12. Christine Benn, 03/06/2023

    I have been very keen to preserve koala habitat on our family’s grazing property bordering the Expedition Ranges in the southern Central Highlands of Qld. I am thrilled to read of Dr Ellis’ research and positive findings and would like to offer him the forests on our land to research if Dr Ellis is interested.

  13. John Baker, 03/06/2023

    Around Central Queensland there are increasing numbers of koalas. Dad was always talking about the numbers of koalas that were here before they all died from Clamydia, he spent the rest of his life looking up trees trying to find one. They are still very hard to spot but they are spread over a huge area and coexisting with cattle in perfect harmony. It would be great for graziers to receive some recognition for their efforts in helping to preserve their habitat rather than being vilified by the likes of PETA

    • Vic Jurskis, 03/06/2023

      John, There are increasing numbers everywhere. Healthy low-density populations have chlamydia but not chlamydiosis. Disease is a consequence of overcrowding and malnutrition. Koala plagues occurred in the late 19th century from South Aus to SE QLD. In Central and North QLD development and plagues occurred later. Last open season in Central QLD was 1927. They crashed in later droughts 1930s. History and science outlined in this paper
      Regards, Vic

  14. A. Andrews, 02/06/2023

    Great article, some commonsense practical land management working with our native species.

  15. Vic Jurskis, 02/06/2023

    The koala in the pic is obviously unhealthy. Large numbers are unnatural. Car strikes, dog attacks and disease are consequences of increasing numbers.
    There are more koalas than ever. Explorers/settlers didn’t see them in grassy woodlands cos they weren’t there. Koalas irrupted in dense new forests and declining woodlands cos they eat soft young shoots which are rare in healthy mature trees. Juicy young growth abounds in dense young stands or sick mature trees.
    Spending millions to ‘save’ an irruptive species promoted by a Lock It Up and Let It Burn ‘conservation’ strategy is dumb.
    It is bad for animal welfare and the truly endangered species that rely on healthy open grassy bush with diverse ground layers.

    For clarification, the main picture of the koala at the top of this article originated from an online photographic library with no information provided as to where or when that picture was taken – Editor

    • Vic Jurskis, 04/06/2023

      Further to the Editor’s clarification and David Hill’s question: The two healthy koalas photographed with Prof. Ellis are juveniles. The more mature koalas that die with disease, the more juveniles survive to maturity. Irruptions continue until numbers of live trees and koalas crash in a major drought as they did from South Australia to SE QLD in the Federation Drought.

    • David Hill, 03/06/2023

      There are 3 photos of koalas, the 2 with Dr Ellis would seem healthy. What is the point you are trying to make Vic? I could only access the abstract of your paper with the link you provided, I was on a meeting recently where one of the participants was quoting a CSIRO study that stated that koalas were in decline in the area where the third photo was taken. Landholders are looking to work with people of integrity and credibility, not those that want to denigrate our industry because it is popular to do so! It is my understanding that koalas are not the drivers of ecological outcomes, but are indicators of healthy systems. I again ask what is the point you are making, what are we to do when the likes of PETA are out there telling blatant lies about ruminant animal production and it’s affect on the environment?

      • Vic Jurskis, 03/06/2023

        Thanks David,
        The 2 with Dr. Ellis are healthy juveniles. Chlamydia slows down the rate of increase in dense populations. It is not a cause of decline. The more mature koalas that die, the more young survive to maturity. Koalas lived naturally in forests at low densities of about 1 per sq. km. They invaded woodlands after they were occupied by pastoralists cos improved pastures or lacka mild burning change soils and tree roots get sick and sick trees turn over lotsa soft young growth which koalas eat. When sick trees crash in droughts so do koalas. Koalas are an irruptive, not an endangered species. There’s no difference between koalas north or south of the VIC/NSW border and those living on the border are officially endangered one day and safe the next as they move around their home ranges. The Koala Industry has totally misrepresented the ecological history. Clearing, grazing and urban development have not reduced koala numbers. Visible sub-populations are a sign of ecological imbalance and inevitable animal welfare issues for koalas.
        Please email me at with postal address. I’ll email my paper which is copyright to CSIRO so i can’t put on net. I’ll mail a copy of my book Koala Scam:
        Best regards,

  16. Michelle Finger, 02/06/2023

    Thankyou for this wonderful positive article!

  17. Peter Ramsey, 02/06/2023

    I wanted to support your comments about the co benefits of running livestock Cattle and Goats in the same area as the Koalas. We have a Land for Wildlife area and we witness the healthy populations of Koalas,
    Congratulations to Dr Ellis and his on going research.
    working with farmers is the key to building the natural capital and rebuilding the biodiversity which is important to a healthy ecosystem.

  18. Robert McKittrick, 02/06/2023

    One of the most intensive cattle grazing areas in Australia must be Leongatha in Victoria. Koalas are commonplace and in abundance there.

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