After bushfires destroyed their habitat, the already struggling populations of Koalas can now soon be listed as endangered in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory
A federal panel of experts specialising in threatened species has recommended that the once-thriving marsupial’s status be upgraded from vulnerable to endangered in each of the three jurisdictions.
A member International Fund for Animal Welfare, Josey Sharrad describes this move as bittersweet. She says that this move “confirms our fears koalas are on the road to extinction and need greater protections if they are going to survive into the future,”.
“Koalas were living on a knife-edge before the fires, with numbers in severe decline due to land clearing, drought, disease, car strikes and dog attacks.
“The bushfires were the final straw, hitting at the heart of already struggling koala populations and critical habitat.”, she added.
According to estimates, at least 6,400 koalas were killed in the Black Summer bushfires, leading to a decline between 33 per cent and 61 per cent in New South Wales (NSW), and unless urgent action is taken, the marsupials can go extinct in this region by 2050.
In Queensland, since 2001 there has been at least a 50 per cent drop in the koala population mostly due to deforestation, drought and bushfires.
Koala populations in the three jurisdictions were listed as vulnerable in 2012, and since then they have suffered due to many reasons, including as a consequence of land clearing.
Public submissions have been invited on the question of whether the status of their native animal should be changed from vulnerable to endangered in all three jurisdictions.
After weighing public submissions, the panel on threatened species will be providing its final advice to the federal environment minister by 30 October.
According to Sharrad a national koala recovery plan has long been overdue.
Urging the governments to take immediate action to address the key threats that are driving koalas towards extinction, she said that “Koalas are an iconic species loved the world over. We simply cannot afford to let them go extinct on our watch.”
Along with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Humane Society International (HSI) have also nominated Koala’s addition to the endangered animals’ list, and HSI says that this might be the last hope for the diminishing populations.
An $18 million plan to help protect the distressed native species was announced earlier this year, by the federal government.
Sussan Ley, Australia’s environment minister, said that a national audit would help in deciding where support and funding are to be directed, but critics complain that the koala census was not enough to save the marsupial.
The audit is expected to cost $2 million, and the rest of the package will go towards medical support, health research, and habitat restoration.
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