Koalas have been declared officially endangered in eastern Australia as they succumb to disease, habitat loss and other threats
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley downgraded their conservation status on the country’s east coast in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, on the recommendation of the government’s science committee on the threatened species.
Previously, they had been listed as a vulnerable species.
Many koalas in Australia suffer from chlamydia. Koala populations in New South Wales have fallen by 33% to 61% since 2001. In 2020, a parliamentary inquiry warned that the species could be extinct before 2050 without urgent action.
The number of koalas in Queensland has halved since 2001 due to drought, fires and deforestation. Some are killed in dog attacks or run over on the roads.
“Koalas have gone from unlisted to vulnerable to endangered in a decade. It’s an incredibly rapid decline,” said Stuart Blanch, a conservation scientist at World Wildlife Fund-Australia.
“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. “, did he declare.
The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there are fewer than 100,000 koalas left in the wild, possibly as few as 43,000. Summer bushfires in 2019-20 killed at least 6,400 of the animals, as rescuers worked desperately to save them and tend to their injuries.
“There was a lot of pressure on the koala. The Black Summer fires, of course, were a tipping point. But we know the koala is vulnerable to climate change and disease,” Ley told reporters Friday in the Blue Mountains.
Ley said vaccines to prevent and treat chlamydia in koalas, using drones to study them, and restoring habitat are ways the government can help protect the vulnerable marsupial.
The government argues listing koalas as endangered will highlight and help tackle threats, while conservation groups argue more needs to be done to prevent their extinction.
The Australian Koala Foundation has called for legislation to protect them and curb land clearing and mining projects that destroy their habitats. It says koalas are also endangered in Victoria and South Australia.
Deborah Tabart, president of the foundation, said the designation of the koalas as endangered was “nothing more than a symbolic gesture”.
“Behind all the photo opportunities and political rhetoric, they (the federal government) continue to condone the destruction of koala habitat,” she said.