The number of wild koala bears in Australia has been estimated at somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000. (There used to hundreds of thousands of them.) This range is so large due to a lack of funds granted to study them. Their numbers are declining steadily to the point some scientists are saying they could go extinct. In some areas they might be down to twenty percent of what they used to be. When the Europeans arrived in the 1700s there may have been ten million koalas living in the wild.
Their habitat has been overtaken by urbanization and farming. The less eucalyptus trees there are, the more they will seek them out by walking across ground that includes roads where they get run over. Also, the more time they spend on the ground the more they are attacked and killed by dogs.
Global warming is causing rising temperatures and droughts which make eucalyptus trees produce less leaves, and can even kill them. Very dry conditions also contribute to larger forest fires, and more of them. These fires consume many of the trees koalas need for food as well as kill the bears. With a dwindling number of trees they might face malnutrition and starvation. To make matters worse, they are also suffering from a sexually transmitted disease – chlamydia.
With all these factors contributing to their decline, one might assume they are protected in Australia as an endangered species, but they aren’t. The Australian government is going to vote on whether to list the iconic bear as endangered or to keep it at its current legal status. It’s hard to imagine them voting against protecting the animal they are known for around the world.
You can read more about Koalas at the Australian Koala Foundation site.
Image Credit: Cody Pope