The koala is one of the world’s most iconic animal species and is widely considered to be the symbol of Australia. Koalas are not bears; they are marsupials.
Being iconic symbols is not sufficient to prevent koalas from going extinct. In the 1920s, hundreds of thousands of koalas were shot for the fur trade, greatly reducing their population.
More recently, drought, bush fires, disease, and habitat loss have drastically reduced the numbers of koalas. Since 2018, there has been a 30% decline in koala populations across Australia. It is difficult to get an accurate count of the animals because they don’t move around much, and they live high up in tree canopies where they are hard to spot.
Estimates are that the koala population has dropped from between 45,000-82,000 in 2018 to between 32,000-58,000 in 2021. The koala is now extinct in 47 Australian electorates and in many others, there are only handfuls of animals remaining. The population decline was accelerated by devastating wildfires in late 2019 into early 2020. Some estimates are that koalas could be extinct by 2050. Conservation organizations around the world have been demanding greater protection for koalas for years.
Given this dire situation, the Australian government recently declared the koala an endangered species, reclassifying it from being a vulnerable species. The government plans to adopt a recovery plan that will include new laws protecting koalas and their natural woodland environments. The details of the plan remain to revealed.
According to the Australian Koala Foundation, however, the new status of the koala means very little in and of itself. If the clearing of the koala habitat continues, the species has little chance of surviving in the wild.
‘In rapid decline’: Australia has lost 30% of its koalas in just 3 years, foundation says
Australia Declares Koalas an Endangered Species
Photo, posted September 18, 2019, courtesy of Guido Konrad via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.