Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that koalas are on the verge of extinction? What are we doing to help this species survive?
– May Jenkins, Chicago, Ill.
Despite their status as icons of biodiversity, koalas have been in steady decline for two decades. Yet the conservation status of this Australian native has only just been upgraded from ‘threatened’ to ‘endangered’ in recent months following a series of bushfires that raged in Down Under over the past the summer of 2019 (later called “Black Summer”).
Prior to the Black Summer, disease and climate change were major determinants of koala population sizes. Habitat loss has also contributed to the plight of the koala in recent years, including deforestation, urbanization, and ecological fragmentation. Indirect factors range from animal grazing to farming and mining practices. However, Black Summer presented the ultimate tipping point for koalas.
According to Anne Kerle of the New South Wales (NSW) Threatened Species Scientific Committee, koala populations have declined by around 50% in Australia due to the black summer. To combat this, state governments such as NSW have announced a commitment of A$193.3 million, the largest financial pledge by any government, to conserve koalas. The majority of the funding will go towards habitat conservation and koala research, with the rest going towards building community support and establishing a koala safety program.
Additionally, the Queensland state government has pledged over A$24 million will go beyond saving koalas to inspire remediation efforts for other endangered species. Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon says Queensland promotes “one of the most biodiverse places on earth”, stressing the critical need to protect endangered species (especially in an area that is also home to the greater number of threatened species due to anthropogenic, i.e. man-made). – habitat loss). According to Wilderness Society, 90,000 hectares of land were cleared for beef production alone in a single year. This initiative indicates a commitment to fund, research and create environmental laws that restrict habitat clearing, according to Dave Copeman, director of the Queensland Conservation Council.
Much of the koala’s recovery efforts will be community-based. As well as encouraging activism that holds Australian policy makers accountable for their actions that destroy koala habitats, educating young people will promote awareness of the need to save koalas, especially as they tend to be inconspicuous in their habitats and therefore “out of sight and out of mind.”
Like any endangered species, koalas are worth saving, not only because they are loved, but also to protect the biodiversity of Australian flora and fauna.
CONTACTS: “Australia lists the koala as an endangered species across most of its range”, https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2022/06/australia-lists-koala-as-an-endangered-species -across-most-of-its-range/; “New South Wales Government Lists Koala As Endangered”, australiangeographic.com.au/news/2022/05/nsw-government-lists-koala-as-endangered/; “Queensland announces more than $24m for koala population and habitat protection”, theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/jun/05/queensland-announces-more-than-24m-for- koala-population-and-habitat-protection .
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