Koalas 'functionally extinct' in Australia, according to conservation group
Maggie the female koala climbs a tree with her joey at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Published Thursday, May 16, 2019 1:40PM EDT
Koalas are ‘functionally extinct’ in their native land of Australia due to widespread deforestation, a conservation group has said.
The furry marsupials, which live in trees, have been reduced to just 80,000 in the wild, according to the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF).
“This is approximately one per cent of the eight million koalas that were shot for fur and sent to London between 1890 and 1927,” AKF chairperson Deborah Tabart said in a press release.
“I am calling on the new prime minister after the May election to enact the Koala Protection Act (KPA) which has been written and ready to go since 2016. The plight of the Koala now falls on his shoulders.”
The act was written to protect the koala and its trees, the AKF said.
The KPA is based on the Bald Eagle Act in the U.S. which used the Federal Endangered Species Act and the Environment Protection Authority to successfully protect America’s national symbol.
The AKF said the plight of the koala was exposed at a senate inquiry in 2011.
“While sitting in the senate inquiry you could hear industry pleading with the senators to continue allowing them to have their way with habitats around the country,” Tabart said.
“I have heard many empty promises from members of government pretending to protect the koala. Look where we are now. The Koala Protection Act will work and it is ready to go.”
The AKF has monitored 128 federal electorates with koala habitats since 2010. Koalas are now extinct in 41 of those, the AKF said.
Rising temperatures causing extreme heatwaves have also killed thousands of koalas through dehydration.
The koala is one of Australia’s most recognized animals and is native only to the east side of the continent.
“Both parties say they want to protect the environment. It would be a great way to start by protecting koala forests which cover 20 per cent of our continent,” Tabart said.
The cuddly marsupial is listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.
A nocturnal animal, koalas can sleep for up to 20 hours a day and eat about a kilogram of eucalyptus leaves each night.