Koalas are Australia’s iconic animal. Tragically, their numbers have vastly declined and they are now listed as a “vulnerable” species in some parts of Australia in a recently approved government listing, NPR reports. But wildlife advocates argue that far more needs to be done.
Koalas have been given “vulnerable” status but this is the least protected status. Plus, it was only granted to koalas in two states where their populations are fast declining, New South Wales and Queensland. As Larissa Waters, environment spokesperson for the Australian Greens, says “It would have made more sense to give the koala a national listing, instead of waiting for koala populations in South Australia and Victoria to fall into decline without protection.”
Lorraine Vass, president of Friends of the Koala, says that urbanization and habitat loss pose the greatest threats to koalas. Koalas find themselves competing with humans, especially on Australia’s densely populated east coast: “The difficulty is that koalas, by and large, live where we want to live,” says Vass.
From October to April, Friends of the Koalas volunteers are kept busy as they receive at least four calls a day about koalas who are sick or injured from car accidents, dog attacks, disease and more. The organization rescues about 300 koalas annually but releases only 60 to 65 back into the wild which is “not a very good success rate at all,” says Vass. A push for gas drilling and fracking along Australia’s east coast will only further endanger the koalas’ habitat.
Deborah Tabart, president of the Australian Koala Foundation, argues that koalas need to be protected by a national law similar to the US’s Bald Eagle Protection Act. Here are five reasons that koalas indeed need more protected status:
1. Koalas’ numbers are dwindling at a shocking rate.
While there were once millions of koalas in Australia, only about 100,000 remain today and the number could be as low as 43,000. Koalas were nearly hunted into extinction in the early twentieth century for their thick fur.
2. Koalas are a huge draw for tourists.
About 75 percent of visitors to Australia say they wish to see koalas, who bring in an estimated $1 billion annually. As Tabart notes, the first thing that Oprah did when she visited was to cuddle a koala.
3. Koalas are extremely finicky eaters.
Koalas eat only the leaves of the eucalyptus tree, a species that has been “aggressively cleared for urban development.” But the eucalyptus’ nutritional value has decline due to climate change and increases of CO2 in the air.
4. Koalas are extremely vulnerable to climate change.
In fact, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature says that the koala is one of the 10 most vulnerable species in the world to climate change.
5. Koalas are a species that “doesn’t eat anyone, doesn’t destroy any crops, doesn’t do anything except sit in a tree and look magnificent,” emphasizes Tabart.
Given all these reasons, Tabart is right to express exasperation and, in regard to winning more protections for koalas, to say that ”the forces against this are very big.”
In the video below, a koala named Constable Nevin, a permanent care resident in the Friends of the Koala Care Centre, demonstrates his bellowing.
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