Australia warns koalas are ‘in danger’ as numbers plummet

SYDNEY: Australia officially listed koalas on part of its eastern coast as “endangered” today (February 11), as the marsupials struggle to survive the impact of bushfires, land clearing, drought and disease.

Koalas have been listed as endangered across much of Australia’s east coast. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP

Conservationists have said koala populations have crashed across much of eastern Australia over the past two decades, warning they are now sliding towards extinction.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said she had designated koala populations as ‘endangered’ to give them a higher level of protection in New South Wales, Capital Territory Australia and Queensland.

The koala, a globally recognized symbol of Australia’s unique wildlife, had been listed as “vulnerable” on the east coast just a decade earlier.

“We are taking unprecedented action to protect the koala,” the minister said, highlighting a recent government pledge of 50 million Australian dollars (1.1 billion baht) to protect and restore koala habitats.

Conservationists have welcomed the koalas’ new status but condemned Australia’s failure to protect the species so far.

“Koalas have gone from unlisted to vulnerable to endangered in a decade. It’s an incredibly rapid decline,” said WWF-Australia conservation scientist Stuart Blanch.

“Today’s decision is welcome, but it won’t stop koalas from sliding towards extinction unless it’s accompanied by tougher laws and incentives for landowners to protect their forest habitats. .”

Conservationists said it was difficult to give precise numbers on koala populations in the affected eastern states.

But estimates from an independent government advisory body – the Scientific Committee on Endangered Species – said the number of koalas had fallen from 185,000 in 2001 to just 92,000 in 2021.

Losing a national icon’

Alexia Wellbelove of the Humane Society International said koalas on the east coast could be extinct by 2050 if no action is taken.

“We can’t afford to clear any more land,” she said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said its own research showed the federal government had approved the clearing of more than 25,000 hectares of koala habitat since the species was declared vulnerable a decade ago.

“Australia’s national environmental laws are so ineffective that they have done little to stem the continued destruction of koala habitat in Queensland and New South Wales since the species was supposed to be protected ten years ago,” said Basha Stasak, the foundation’s nature campaign manager.

“Koala extinction doesn’t have to happen,” Stasak added.

“We must stop allowing their homes to be bulldozed for mines, new housing estates, agricultural projects and industrial logging.”

Australian koalas were living on a ‘razor’s edge’ even before the devastating ‘Black Summer’ bushfires of 2019-2020 due to land clearing, drought, disease, collisions with cars and attacks from dogs, said Josey Sharrad, wildlife campaign manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

“We should never have let things get to the point where we risk losing a national icon,” Sharrad said.

“The bushfires broke the camel’s back. This must be a wake-up call for Australia and the government to act much faster to protect critical habitat from development and land clearing and to seriously address the impacts of climate change.

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