Australia officially classifies koalas as ‘critically endangered’ as their numbers decline
Australia officially listed koalas across a vast swath of its east coast as “critically endangered” on Friday, as marsupials battled to survive the effects of bushfires, land clearing, drought and disease.
Conservationists said koala numbers have plummeted in much of eastern Australia over the past two decades, warning that they are now sliding toward extinction.
Environment Minister Susan Lee said she had classified koala populations as “endangered” to give them a higher level of protection in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland.
The koala, a globally recognized symbol of Australia’s unique wildlife, was listed as “vulnerable” on the east coast just a decade ago.
“We are taking unprecedented measures to protect koalas,” the minister said, noting the government’s recent pledge of A$50 million (US$36 million) to protect and restore koala habitats.
Conservationists have welcomed the new status of koalas but have condemned Australia’s failure to protect the species so far.
“Koalas have gone from not listed to being vulnerable to being vulnerable within a decade. This is a shocking rapid decline,” said Stuart Blanche, a conservation scientist at the World Wide Fund for Nature in Australia.
“Today’s decision is welcome, but it will not prevent koalas from sliding toward extinction unless it is accompanied by stronger laws and incentives for landowners to protect their forest homes.”
Conservationists said it was difficult to give accurate figures on koala numbers in the affected eastern states.
But an independent government advisory body – the Scientific Committee on Endangered Species – estimates that koala numbers have fallen from 185,000 in 2001 to just 92,000 in 2021.
Alexia Will-Belov of Humane Society International said East Coast koalas could become extinct by 2050 if no action is taken.
“We can’t afford any more clearing,” she said.
Conservation Australia said its own research showed the federal government had agreed to remove more than 25,000 hectares of koala habitat since the species was declared endangered a decade ago.
“Australia’s national environmental laws are so ineffective that they have done little to stop the ongoing destruction of koala habitats in Queensland and New South Wales since they were supposed to be protected a decade ago,” said Pasha Stasak, director of the Foundation’s Nature Campaign.
“The extinction of the koala should not happen,” Stasak added.
We must stop allowing their homes to be demolished for mines, new apartment buildings, agricultural projects and industrial logging.
Josie Shraded, campaign manager for Wildlife International, Josie Shrad, said Australian koalas were living on a “knife edge” even before the devastating “Black Summer” bushfires of 2019-2020 due to logging, drought, disease, car strikes and dog attacks. Animal Welfare Fund.
“We shouldn’t have allowed things to get to the point where we run the risk of losing a national icon,” Schrad said.
“The bushfires were the last straw. This should be a wake-up call for Australia and the government to move faster to protect critical habitats from development and land clearing and seriously address the impacts of climate change.”