Australia is taking multiple steps in an attempt to save the dwindling koala population, including declaring the animals an endangered species.
Once home to an estimated 8 million koalas in the wild, the Australian Koala Foundation now believes about 58,000 koalas remain in the country.
The population has been dwindling over the years thanks to development and bulldozing of their habitats, and another third of the population was lost due in part to devastating bushfires in 2019 and 2020.
“The terrible bushfires of 2019–2020 of course contributed to this outcome, however, they are certainly not the only reason we are seeing koala populations on the decline,” AKF chair Deborah Tabart said last summer. “We have witnessed a drastic decrease in the inland population because of drought, heatwaves, and lack of water for koalas to drink.”
Susan Ley, minister for the environment, has made protecting the koalas a priority. The government has set aside $50 million for conservation and protection efforts as part of a framework to save the iconic Australian species.
“We are taking unprecedented action to protect the koala, working with scientists, medical researchers, veterinarians, communities, states, local governments, and traditional owners,” Ley said in a statement.
The new listing as an endangered species, and the additional funding, is aimed to turn the tide on falling numbers.
“The new listing highlights the challenges the species is facing and ensures that all assessments under the act will be considered not only in terms of their local impacts, but with regard to the wider koala population,” Ley said.
“The National plan developed through scientific advice and public consultation will now go to the relevant states for their final adoption and will help guide state and local government strategies.”
World Wildlife campaigner Stuart Blanch told Bega District News that the listing of the koala as an endangered species was a sad but necessary day.
“It’s a necessary terrible step,” Blanch said. “I don’t think we can save koalas from extinction without things like this to raise awareness and actually focus people’s minds. We’re not making this up: We are losing them.”
Blanch compared the situation to two other iconic animals in efforts to keep the species alive.
“I think it’s our orangutan, or perhaps the giant panda,” he said. “There are some similarities to the panda, but after 30 years, the World Heritage listing for [their habitat], the creation of reserves, breeding, and giant panda diplomacy, last year they got giant pandas off the endangered species list.”
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