Koalas labeled as 'endangered' in eastern states of Australia

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Monday, February 14, 2022

A koala in Victoria, Australia
Image: User:Sklmsta.

On Friday, Australia’s federal environment minister Sussan Ley declared the koala an endangered species in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

The announcement follows proposals in 2020 by World Wildlife Fund Australia (WWF-Australia) and other organizations. The koala was previously considered a vulnerable species, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) still lists it as one in the rest of the world.

Some link the decline in koala population with previous natural disasters in the country, especially the 2019-2020 Australian bushfire season. The bushfires had "killed, injured or affected" 60 thousand of the animals, according to WWF-Australia. This, along with droughts, urbanization and habitat destruction, had contributed to the drop in population. Efforts to prevent the koala's extinction have also been announced by the government.

A report in April 2020 indicated the decline of koala populations in eastern Australian states since 2001 reached 50% in Queensland and 62% in New South Wales. In that month, WWF-Australia, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Humane Society International (HSI) proposed the IUCN change the species' category. It has been designated 'vulnerable' for a decade.

A New South Wales inquiry in June 2020 predicted the extinction of the koala could occur by 2050 without appropriate prevention measures.

We should never have allowed things to get to the point where we are at risk of losing a national icon. It is a dark day for our nation.

—Rebecca Keeble (IFAW Oceania Regional Director)

In her announcement, Ley said these events "have led to the advice". Ley has also stated actions to protect the species are being planned: "There is still time to save this globally iconic species if the uplisting serves as a turning point in koala conservation. We need stronger laws and landholder incentives to protect their forest homes."

According to Ley, AUD 74 million (USD 52.9 million) have been funded to back these decisions.

Some conservation groups have expressed their disapproval. President of the Australian Koala Foundation Deborah Tabart argued the species is also endangered in Victoria and South Australia, and blamed the federal government for continuing to "approve" the animal's habitat loss.

HSI campaign director Alexia Wellbelove advised the government to adequately address the country's environmental problems. Wellbelove defended the decision should be reviewed by former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel, who concluded a year ago that the government didn't take the appropriate steps for conservation and proposed a change in environmental standards.