Koalas under threat
One of Australia’s most iconic marsupials, the koala is facing a range of threats, including habitat loss, urban expansion, dog attacks, vehicle collisions and disease. Its specialised diet of eucalyptus leaves confines it to quite specific habitats, while increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere may be reducing the nutrient content of the leaves it eats.
Climate change is also increasing the risk of drought and fires, with koalas being particularly vulnerable to bushfires as their slow movements and tree-dwelling lifestyle make it difficult for them to escape.
Although the koala’s exact population size is unclear, in New South Wales and Queensland its numbers are believed to have fallen by as much as 40% since 1990.
Under the new listing, koalas in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory will be considered ‘vulnerable’ on Australia’s national list of threatened species. Extra funding will be given to develop new survey methods for koalas and find out more about koala habitat.
According to the Australian Environment Minister, Tony Burke, the decision to list the koala as vulnerable followed a “rigorous scientific assessment”.
“We’re talking about a species that is not only iconic in Australia, but is known worldwide, a species that has taken a massive hit over the last 20 years and we can’t wait any longer before we turn the corner when the scientists are telling us the evidence is in,” he said.
“Koalas are an iconic Australian animal and they hold a special place in the community… People have made it very clear to me that they want to make sure the koala is protected for future generations.”
The listing does not cover the whole of Australia, with koala populations in some areas thought to be larger and stable or even increasing.
However, conservationists, including Deborah Tabart of the Australian Koala Foundation, have argued that the koala should be protected nationwide. Although the new listing may be a step in the right direction, the koala still faces many threats and the future of this Australian icon is far from secure.
Find out more about koala conservation at the Australian Koala Foundation.
View more photos and videos of the koala on ARKive.
Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author