The Australian government has announced that it now considers koalas an endangered species in three out of five of the states and territories where they are native. Palace populations have declined precipitously in just a decade. The 2019-20 bushfires were the last straw.
Koalas, like kangaroos, are marsupials only found in the Australian continent. Because they live and feed only on eucalyptus trees, they are particularly at risk when human activity, and climate change, reduces their habitat.
Koalas were placed on the vulnerable list in 2012 in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), when forest clearing for construction was reducing their numbers. Particularly long and severe droughts further worsened the situation and led to the catastrophic “Black Summer” of bushfires in 2019-20, which are believed to have killed 5,000 koalas and affected 24% of their habitat in NSW alone. Even when they were rescued, their habitat was destroyed.
Conservation groups have been calling for action for years.
"Koalas have gone from no-listing to vulnerable to endangered within a decade. That is a shockingly fast decline," said conservation scientist Dr Stuart Blanch from WWF-Australia.
Internationally agreed scientific categories for endangered species, from least to most worrying: near threatened; vulnerable; endangered; critically endangered; extinct.
The Australian Koala Foundation has done vast surveys, trying to amass data to show the danger. They believe there are only 50-100,000 koalas left in the wild.
The government has promised 15 million Australian dollars over four years to boost protection and research. Charities say the single most important action is to refuse building permits that would encroach on koala territory. Environment Minister Sussan Ley said that land-development applications would now be assessed for impacts on koalas.