Australia Declares Koalas an Endangered Species
Years of drought, fires, and habitat destruction have decimated the iconic marsupial population.
Sydney, Australia — Drought, bushfires, disease, and habitat degradation have significantly reduced the numbers of a mammal that is an emblem of Australia’s distinctive wildlife, prompting the Australian government to name the koala an endangered species on Friday.
The country’s environment minister made the declaration two years after a legislative study predicted that koalas would go extinct by 2050 unless urgent government action was taken.
The Australian government is not required to take any special action as a result of the reclassification from vulnerable to endangered. However, it said separately that it would approve a koala recovery plan produced by the country’s environmental department.
The establishment of regulations to safeguard koalas and their native woodland habitats would be helped by this strategy. In addition, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated last month that the government would invest 50 million Australian dollars ($35.7 million) in koala recovery and conservation activities over the next four years.
The situation of the koala was brought to the attention of the world in 2019 when bushfires raced across millions of acres in Australia, destroying the animal’s habitats. According to World Wildlife Fund-Australia-commissioned research, 60,000 koalas were “killed, hurt, or impacted in some way.”
The Australian government responded by committing 18 million Australian dollars ($12.8 million) to rehabilitating koala habitats and funding koala health studies.
The animal was nominated for designation as an endangered species by W.W.F.-Australia, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Humane Society International in 2020. The researchers discovered that koala populations in Queensland and New South Wales have declined by 50% or more since 2001.
It’s unknown how many koalas are still alive. Counting the animals, which is still going on, has proven incredibly challenging.
While animal welfare organizations applauded the Australian government’s efforts on Friday, others claimed that major issues such as land clearing, deforestation, and habitat destruction had been overlooked.
According to Deborah Tabart, chairperson of the Australian Koala Foundation, the new status of the species “doesn’t imply anything.” “Our koalas may have a pretty new moniker,” she noted, “but behind all the photo opportunities and political rhetoric, they continue to accept the destruction of the koala ecosystem.”
A further status change — from endangered to extinct — is imminent if the removal of koala habitat continues, Ms. Tabart warned.