The popular Koala has officially been listed as a “threatened species” by the Australian government as the marsupial species faces dangers caused by urban expansion and climate change. Populations of the treasured koala, a cute (if not cuddly) national symbol of Australia, have dwindled for some time after surviving threats throughout history from fur traders. Subsisting on a diet of only eucalyptus leaves, the koala population has been nearly depleted as trees are cut down, and CO2 emissions erode the nutritional value of the remaining plants.
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Koala populations have rapidly dropped by 40 percent in Queensland and by one-third in New South Wales, and Australia’s environment minister, Tony Burke, has placed koalas in these areas and the Australian Capital Territory on the national list of vulnerable species. Burke explained in a press release, “Koalas are an iconic Australian animal and they hold a special place in the community… People have made it very clear to me that they want to make sure the koala is protected for future generations. Koala populations are under serious threat from habitat loss and urban expansion, as well as vehicle strikes, dog attacks, and disease.”
Koala populations are particularly hard to track, with estimates of the remaining number of animals in Australia “varying from several hundred thousand to as few as 43,000,” according to the BBC. With this recent change in conservation status of the koala, the State Government of New South Wales has allocated an additional 700,000 $AU to convene a summit to discuss koala conservation issues, “track changes in koala populations, develop a standard approach to mapping koala habitat and to evaluate the effectiveness of previous tree plantings,” reported the Coffs Coast Advocate.
The decision to protect the species through the listing comes as a result of “rigorous scientific assessment by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee which gathered information from a variety of experts over the past three years.” Burke does note that the iconic koala may not be at risk everywhere “[k]oala numbers vary significantly across the country, so while koala populations are clearly declining in some areas, there are large, stable or even increasing populations in other areas.”
But, as the Guardian highlights, some environmental activists have expressed concern that the move by the Australian government does not go far enough — failing to enact preemptive protection of koalas in Victoria and South Australia. Larissa Waters, environment spokesperson for the Australian Greens, added,”We now need a prompt, comprehensive and well-enforced recovery plan to get the koala back off the threatened species list, and we need protection for other species not as famous as the koala but still sliding closer to extinction every day.”