- Once found in abundance, Australia’s much-loved koalas have now been officially classified as ‘endangered’ after widespread bushfires, drought and land clearing destroyed much of their eucalyptus-rich habitat.
- Australia has announced that the government was upgrading the conservation status of the marsupials from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, based on the recommendation of the threatened species scientific committee.
Australia’s Koala population
- According to fossil records, Koala species have inhabited parts of Australia for at least 25 million years. But today, only one species remains — the Phascolarctos cinereus. They are found in the wild in the southeast and eastern sides of Australia — in coastal Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.
- Since Europeans first settled in the region, the Koala population has faced widespread habitat loss, particularly due to agriculture and the construction of urban settlements.
- They survive on a strict diet of up to a kilogram of eucalyptus leaves every day.
- Due to the low nutritional value of these leaves, koalas tend to sleep for extended periods, often up to 18 hours a day, to conserve energy.
Why did the Australian government finally declare Koalas endangered?
- Australia’s Koala population has been on the road to extinction for over two decades now. But despite several demands by animal rights groups and conservationists, the government has been accused of doing little to protect the species. Koalas were classified as “vulnerable” only in 2012.
- During the catastrophic 2019 bushfires in Australia, now known as the ‘Black Summer’, an estimated 60,000 koalas were impacted, with vast swathes of their habitat being blackened and rendered unliveable.
- Another major threat is the spread of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease known to cause blindness and cysts in the koalas reproductive tract.
Will the change in status make a difference?
- The Endangered status of the koala means they and their forest homes should be provided with greater protection under Australia’s national environmental law. Not only will this protect the iconic animal, but many other species living alongside them.
- But activists argue that more needs to be done to prevent land clearing and to reverse the effects of climate change.