Australia said Friday the koala was endangered in the east of the country, with signs of climate change contributing to dwindling marsupial numbers.
The country’s environment minister, Sussan Ley, announced the move from vulnerable to endangered, and cited drought, forest fires and Deforestation which damages the habitat of the native koala.
The status indicates “high risk of extinction in the wild” and results in one of the highest levels of mortality for a species, just below critically endangered and extinct species. the designation is based on internationally recognized criteria, according to the government.
Any action inspired by the status change is largely up to lawmakers, although the government announced $35 million in funding for “recovery and conservation” in January.
“The new list highlights the challenges facing the species,” Ley said in a statement.
The enhanced status covers the animal in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. The minister said she acted after seeking the advice of the national scientific committee on endangered species.
“The impact of prolonged drought, followed by black summer bushfires, and the cumulative impacts of disease, urbanization and habitat loss over the past twenty years have led to the advice about the status of the animal, she said.
The country’s 2020 Black Summer wildfires claimed 34 lives and burned at least 44 million acres. the World Wildlife Fund-Australia estimated that 60 million koalas suffered fire impacts which included “death, injury, trauma, smoke inhalation, heat stress, dehydration, habitat loss, reduced food supply” and more.
The koala has long been affected by climate change and land clearance for agriculture and urban development, according to the Endangered Species Scientific Committee.
A 2020 report commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare concluded that the number of koalas in New South Wales had plummeted 28 to 65 percent in three generations before the fires.
In a report published 11 years ago, the Scientific Committee on Endangered Species said climate change, including rising temperatures and an increased threat of wildfires, is expected to bear much of the blame for the koala peril.
The minister’s statement on Friday did not mention climate change or global warming, but blamed events, such as drought and fires, which have long been said to be increased in size and frequency by a planet that heats.
The marsupial’s access to water was key to its survival, according to the report, and there is evidence over the past century that its migration was driven by thirst.
The Australian Koala Foundation was unimpressed with the minister’s action, saying it is not backed by a clearing ban, an issue it says is most crucial to the survival of the animal.
“The change does nothing legally and is not backed by any legislation necessary to stop land clearing, which is the primary reason koalas become homeless and then fall ill,” the organization said in a statement Friday.
In her statement, the foundation’s president, Deborah Tabart, called the minister’s statement a “symbolic gesture”. The group said any protection should also extend to the states of Victoria and South Australia.
Endangered status would be reflected in national environmental legislation, but requires final state approval, the minister’s office said.