Conservationists claim Australia’s iconic koala will become extinct in some areas of the country if the federal government does not take urgent action. A group of Australian scientists recently met with government officials to develop a national koala conservation strategy to keep key populations of the animals from dying out.
The Australian Koala Foundation says less than 100,000 koalas are left in the country, compared to millions before they were heavily hunted for fur in the 1920’s. The “Koala Coast”, an area in southeast Queensland, has seen the population fall by at least 26% to 4,611 animals since a 1996-1999 survey as development encroached on their natural habitats.
Kat Miller of the World Wildlife Fund agrees with the AKF saying, “There are more than 1,700 federally-listed threatened populations of animals in Australia. There is an extinction crisis in Australia. The koala may well be the next one to go downhill.”
Climate change has played a role in the decline of koalas, altering the nutritional make-up of gumtree leaves, their staple food. Post mortems of around 700 koalas in southeast Queensland have found that most were “wasted” when they died.
The Australian Koala Foundation is urging Environment Minister Peter Garrett to declare the southeast Queensland koala population as critically endangered under law in a bid to protect their habitats from further developments. “This is the most important thing Minister Garrett and his department can do right now to show he is serious about saving the koala,” said Kathleen Tabart from the AKF.
Garrett has said he had charged Australia’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee with assessing the risk to the koala but warned that he needed to await the committee’s report before he could act. “This is a clear indication of how seriously the Australian government is considering reports from the Australian Koala Foundation and others on diminishing koala numbers in some regions,” the minister said.