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Emu Platypus

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Source: Hundloe and Hamilton (1997)

Hundloe and Hamilton concluded that, based on the tourism industry's contribution to Australia's 1996 national revenue (AU$16.1 billion), an estimated AU$1.1 billion was the direct contribution of koalas, and they proposed this figure would rise to AU$2.5 billion by the year 2000, though there appears to be no updated figures available. In arriving at this figure, Hundloe and Hamilton took into account the amount of money spent on 'koalabilia'—the costs of visiting zoos and wildlife parks, photographs with koalas, souvenirs and a proportion of tourists' travel costs to Australia. They also estimated that the 'koala industry' provides some 9000 Australians with jobs.48 Hundloe and Hamilton reported their study as being only a partial evaluation of the 'koala industry' and so its estimate of the koala's economic contribution to Australia's revenue was at the lower end of the scale.

To contribute more than 10 per cent of the national tourism revenue is an impressive achievement, but perhaps the koala's real worth to Australia is its unique status that allows it to act as an ambassador between the federal and state governments of Australia and governments of other countries. Whether in a zoo-to-zoo exchange or as a goodwill gift, the koala facilitates communication between scientific, political and industrial bodies, to the benefit of all participants. The koala's popularity with young and old makes it an excellent educational tool for increasing public awareness of conservation issues. Captive koalas in zoos are excellent ambassadors for other threatened species, and highlight some of the dangers facing their wild relations, such as habitat loss and disease, that we will look at in subsequent chapters.

Drawcard, yes, ambassador, yes, but icon? What is it that has made the koala such a sought-after emblem in the worlds of literature, commerce and advertising? As we will see in the following chapter, its furry face has been used to sell everything from Australian flour and canned fruit to Australia itself.

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