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Urban growth takes heavy toll on native animals

Date

Marika Dobbin

Linda Healy with Belle the koala.

Linda Healy with Belle the koala. Photo: Pat Scala

EIGHT koalas have been hit by cars in the past month near the town of Gisborne, 10 kilometres north-west of the Melbourne boundary.

The latest victim, a five-year-old female dubbed Bess, was found blind and stumbling in circles in the middle of the Gisborne road to Bacchus Marsh on Tuesday of last week.

Wildlife rescuers say horrific injuries to native animals have become commonplace since intensive housing development in the country town and the neighbouring Melbourne growth suburb of Sunbury.

As The Age revealed last week, suburban-style development now stretches far beyond the official urban growth boundary into rural towns, from Drouin in Gippsland to Wallan on the Northern Highway and Bacchus Marsh in the west.

Melbourne could grow even bigger under the incumbent Baillieu government, which promised before the state election to review the urban growth boundary every two years to ensure there is 20 to 25 years' worth of land supply for housing.

The Department of Planning and Community Development would conduct the biennial audit of land in Melbourne, Geelong and major regional centres, and ''only recommend [urban growth boundary] expansion if population and housing demand projections determine it necessary''.

Macedon Ranges Wildlife Network co-ordinator Fiona Corke said the new government should educate residents on the urban fringe about how to coexist with wildlife and keep buffer zones between housing and habitat.

The network blames urban sprawl for the increased workload of its rescuers, who have been called out attend to more than 1100 distressed koalas, kangaroos, wombats, possums, echidnas and birds so far this year. The number has risen steadily from 715 animals in 2007.

''The landscape is home to many species of wildlife and not just a cheap place to buy a house and land package and commute back to Melbourne,'' Ms Corke said. ''More housing means more cars and more cat and dog attacks.

''The carnage and displacement of our native wildlife is horrific and it's getting much, much worse.''

The network will soon launch a website, funded by Macedon Ranges Shire, to survey the number of koalas with help from the public.

Residents in the Yarra Valley, Hepburn, Moorabool and Mornington Peninsula shires have also reported a similar trend of wildlife deaths and injuries.

Children in Mount Eliza were moved last month to post handmade signs on roadsides asking motorists to slow down and be alert to animals.

East Trentham wildlife carer Linda Healy is now caring for Bess and another koala that was struck just days later on the same Gisborne road.

She said Bess still could not see well and clawed defensively in the air at loud noises and shadows.

''But she's eating well and depending on whether she recovers her vision, she will be released.''

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