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Perspective: We need to improve efforts for the preservation of the Eastern grey kangaroo population

The University of the Sunshine Coast’s (USC) Sippy Downs campus has a number of significant habitats for a range of fauna species. These areas are likely to increase in importance as development occurs around the University periphery. One such species, the Eastern grey kangaroo, is an iconic Australian marsupial that many students, staff and visitors of USC are likely to encounter while on the Sippy Downs campus. In recent years, however, felling of forest and construction of residential and commercial buildings has occurred around the periphery of campus. This development has subsequently led to increased vehicle traffic and loss of critical habitat. As a result, the adult kangaroo population has been estimated to decrease from around 90 in 2010 to 10 in 2017. These declines evoke numerous concerns, including those related to ecology, urban design, and corporate responsibility. This article explores these concerns.

From an ecological perspective, wildlife corridors are areas of habitat connecting wildlife populations between two separate spaces. This allows an exchange of individuals between sleeping and eating areas and provides the ability of a given species access to a greater area of habitat. The development that has occurred surrounding USC campus in the last decade has fragmented the natural habitat of the eastern grey kangaroo. Furthermore, the interruption of USC’s specified wildlife corridors has trapped the kangaroo population on campus leaving limited ability to travel beyond the campus grounds. The development of the Town Centre to the north of Sippy Downs Drive will further displace many fauna species. As consequence of development of the new Town Centre, USC’s habitat ‘corridors’ should have been critical in enabling fauna to move to other protected areas, either on campus or in the adjacent National Park. These corridors should have helped to maintain the ecological sustainability of the area while serving to integrate pockets of tree species and grassland areas that are currently disconnected by informal drainage lines and temporary car parking. Unfortunately, the recent construction of the new Youi insurance headquarters building completely interrupted and blocked one of these two corridors. As seen in the figure below, the site of the Youi building, specifically the carpark (shaded orange), is in the direct path of the north/south wildlife corridor. It is a terrible shame this is now a reality.

Above: USC Sippy Downs campus precinct. The northern plots of forest are scheduled to be felled and developed in the coming years as part of the Town Centre development. The orange section represents the Youi headquarters building and carpark.

Source: Base map: Google Earth 2017. Overlay map: USC Wildlife corridor map available at: http://www.usc.edu.au/media/27493/421.jpg

From an urban design perspective, the declining kangaroo population is a tragic testimony to the lack of thoughtful design. It escapes our logic why town planners and urban designers continue to ignore the structure of the natural environment when mapping out new roads and infrastructure. With all the money spent on infrastructure, we ponder the difficulty to factor in the preservation of a critical wildlife corridor to get kangaroos safely from the Sippy Downs campus to the Mooloolah River National Park; from their eating areas to their sleeping areas, without having to dodge 4-lane traffic. In a world where the diversity of wildlife is disappearing at unprecedented speed, the USC precinct is down to its last few kangaroos. The ignorance and desperate need for growth at all costs is astounds us; as does the ability to stop this thoughtless and ignorance of current urban design practices.

From a corporate responsibility perspective, we, as constituents of USC, have a special moral obligation to question the decisions on such issues. This is an institution that we have entrusted to prepare us for the future; an institution that seems to strive for hypocrisy as they lead the charge in destroying our shared environment. It is not one globally centralised decision-making organism that has created the deteriorating Earth that we have found ourselves born into; rather, a global neoliberal paradigm held together and perpetuated by such profit-seeking corporations. As educational institutions, universities offer opaque insights into our collective future. The students that enrol and study in our universities are the same ones that will shape the world tomorrow. But we don’t have to wait to change the world until we have left; there is plenty to be done right here and right now. We therefore challenge USC to be reflexive about their day-to-day decisions and act as a moral leader for the students that have entrusted USC with their future.  

Despite USC’s pride for its status as a nature reserve, we are left underwhelmed about the declining local kangaroo population in the past few years. Most of the deaths have been a direct result of increased traffic in the area, as kangaroos are hit and killed on the streets surrounding USC. Today, it is clear that if we wish for the local kangaroo population to continue to thrive as it did in the past, we must do something to help them. This leaves us with several guiding questions for our collective future: why did USC Leadership have no power in ensuring the specified wildlife corridors remain open for the kangaroos to access? What power does such a powerful institution have in long-term sustainability concerns on the Sunshine Coast? And finally, we ponder, where to from here?

Above: A mob of Eastern grey kangaroos on USC Sippy Downs campus

Source: SEQ Eastern Grey Kangaroo Conservation Project 

More information can be found at:

  1. https://www.usc.edu.au/research-and-innovation/animal-and-marine-ecology/seq-eastern-grey-kangaroo-conservation-project

  2. http://www.usceco.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/USC-Kangaroo-Management-Recommendations-report_050216.pdf

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