CANBERRA (XINHUA) – Australian conservationists have called for federal legislation to protect the iconic koala from extinction.
The Australian Koala Foundation has submitted a bill to new Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek that would make it illegal to interfere with koala habitats except for proven “benign” activity.
This comes after two separate incidents where koalas were likely killed by humans.
Thirteen koalas were found dead under ‘unusual’ circumstances on a blue gum plantation in western Victoria earlier this month and at least two died in a planned fire in the south west of the state in Beginning of the month.
In February, the federal government officially listed the koala as endangered, acknowledging that the iconic marsupial was at risk of extinction after populations were ravaged by bushfires, drought, disease and land clearing.
However, conservationists argue that the protections offered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 are insufficient to save the koala from extinction, calling for dedicated legislation to protect the species.
“The law automatically says, ‘If it’s koala habitat, you can’t touch it,’ and the only way to touch it is if you prove your activity is benign, which I think if you are a responsible industry, you could do,” Foundation chairwoman Deborah Tabart told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of the foundation bill.
The Foundation disputes government figures on koala populations.
In Victoria, the state government estimates there are 460,000 in eucalyptus plantations and forests, but the foundation said the actual number was less than 24,000.
“The bottom line is that our government has declared koalas to be endangered and in Victoria and South Australia, field hospitals are still receiving injured animals,” Ms Tabart said.
“So don’t we care about the welfare of this species, even though we’re willing to put it on every tourist brochure on the entire planet?”