Koalas Are Now ‘Functionally Extinct’ in Australia

They’re cuddly. They’re terribly cute. And in Australia, they’re almost gone. Yes, we’re talking about the animal we often associate with the Land Down Under. The iconic koala is “functionally extinct” in the place it famously represents.

“Functionally extinct” means the population of a species has declined to the point where it can no longer play a significant role in the ecosystem or it can’t produce enough offspring to keep the species going.

Since 2010, the Australian Koala Foundation has been monitoring koala populations in the 128 Aussie federal electorates that encompass the species’ range. Today, not a single koala can be found in 41 of those electorates.

Koala habitat has drastically diminished as development increased throughout Australia. In addition, climate change is taking its toll in the form of droughts and heatwaves. For the koala to survive, something has to change.

All about the koala

koala in natural habitat

Photo credit: CraigRJD/Getty Images

Although we often call them “koala bears,” that’s a misnomer. They are actually marsupials. Baby koalas, called “joeys,” travel in their mothers’ pouches, just like kangaroo babies do.

Koalas live in the eastern portion of mainland Australia, as well as on some islands off the southern and eastern coasts. Within Australia, you now only can find wild koalas in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Koalas boost their ecosystem by eating the outermost and uppermost leaves of the eucalyptus tree, which helps the eucalyptus forest regenerate and spread. Koalas also keep the ground fertile for plant life by, well, pooping. Koala poop is a nutrient-filled fertilizer the animals naturally spread all over their habitat.

Koalas spend a good 18 to 20 hours a day snoozing up high in their beloved eucalyptus trees. It takes quite a bit of energy to digest eucalyptus leaves, which are highly fibrous and toxic to many animals (but not koalas). Sleeping helps koalas conserve energy that’s needed for digestion.

They get most of the water they need from the eucalyptus leaves they eat. Koalas require about 100 trees per animal to comfortably survive, which becomes a critical problem as deforestation increases due to development.

Koala numbers are dwindling

koala sleeping

Photo credit: woodstock/Getty Images

“The AKF thinks there are no more than 80,000 Koalas in Australia,” Australian Koala Foundation CEO Deborah Tabart said in a news release. “This is approximately 1 percent of the 8 million Koalas that were shot for fur and sent to London between 1890 and 1927.”

In fact, the Australian Koala Foundation thinks the number of remaining koalas could be as low as 43,000.

Legally, koalas are a protected species in Australia, and yet they’re still dying out. That’s because they are losing the habitat they need to survive. Almost 80 percent of the remaining koala habitat is on privately owned land.

That’s why the Australian Koala Foundation insists it’s long overdue for Australia to enact the Koala Protection Act, which focuses on protecting koala habitat to save the koala itself. The foundation says it knows precisely which trees are necessary to sustain the koala. So it proposes that if developers want to build in areas where such trees are present, their applications should be denied unless they can demonstrate their activities will be “benign to the landscape.”

Australia held its national election May 18, in which Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a conservative, won re-election against the Labor Party’s Bill Shorten. What that means for koala protection is anyone’s guess. But up to now, Morrison has not acted.

“The new Australian Government could swiftly put the Koala Protection Act in place,” according to the Australian Koala Foundation news release.

“Both parties say they want to protect the environment,” Tabart said in the release. “It would be a great way to start by protecting koala forests which cover 20 percent of our continent.”

It would indeed.

This May, Care2 is launching a campaign to protect endangered species. Join us to save these real-life fantastic beasts!

Main photo credit: Bobtokyoharris/Getty Images


Jennifer H
Jennifer H10 days ago

Disappointing that Australia would allow this to happen. Protections should have been given much sooner.

Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D24 days ago

Heart broken and sickened but ready to fight!!! Australia must step up and protect their iconic species and we must raise our voices together and insure their survival.

Arlene C
Arlene C24 days ago

Merci Susan, triste

S M24 days ago

Absolutely reprehensible that the Aussie Govt has allowed this to happen. They have had years of warning it was coming and have done little but at same time have allowed deforestation of habitat, etc.
If they cared as much about their ecosystem as they do about allowing more American military bases into Australia there would not be this problem now.

Rosemary Rannes
Rosemary R25 days ago

The Aussie government has waited far too long to protect their iconic Koala's. Now these amazing, most beautiful animal "Are Now ‘Functionally Extinct’ in Australia" !
Tears are not enough! Care2 friends/members we are their voice and if we can save them from being annihilated from our Mother Earth we will do everything possible!
I signed this petition and shared on my Pinterest boards and on Twitter.
Protect & Restore Koala Habitat in Australia

David C
David C25 days ago

makes me wanna cry

David C
David C25 days ago

very sad

Nicolas Nasrallah
Nicolas N25 days ago

Shame on humanity, this planet is not ours only, we need to realize this before it's too late. Future generations are going to spit on our graves for ruining their world.

Bill Eagle
Bill E25 days ago

What a shame. I signed the petition to protect them.

Leopold Marek
Leopold Marek25 days ago