Koalas May Be ‘Functionally Extinct’ After Fires Destroy Most Of Their Habitat

The koala population has suffered a devastating blow as wildfires continue to rage in Australia, resulting in some experts lamenting that the cute marsupial species has been rendered “functionally extinct.”

Dozens of fires have destroyed thousands of acres and summer has yet to even start yet in Australia, meaning things could get even worse before they get better. But it may be too late for the koala, one of the most iconic animals in the country that attracts tourists from around the world.

We have all seen the amazing video of a brave woman rescuing a koala from the fire. Unfortunately, most koalas have not been so lucky.

“If we combine all of the estimated deaths of koalas in the bushfires, there could be 1,000 koalas that have been killed in the last two months,” Australian Koala Foundation chairwoman Deborah Tabart told The Daily Mail.

That may not sound like a lot considering there are thousands of living koalas in New South Wales (NSW) Australia, but when combined with the loss of around 80 percent of their habitat and a major part of the food and water supply, which they get from eucalyptus trees, the situation is dire.

“We think there are 18000 koalas in NSW alone, so the bushfires have had a massive impact on their population,” Tabart said. “Because of deforestation and now the bushfires, there is so little habitat left and trees with eucalyptus take months to grow back.”

Indeed, despite some efforts to plant more trees in Australia, the government has refused to stand in the way of deforestation in the name of agricultural and fossil fuel industry pursuits, putting profit over the existence of koalas and other species. And this is all on top of a severe water crisis that has hit the region.

The reality for koalas is so nightmarish, in fact, that their cries for help are being heard more often.

“Koalas don’t make noise much of the time,” Sydney University ecology professor Chris Dickman told the BBC. “Males only make booming noises during mating season. Other than that they’re quiet animals. So hearing their yelps is a pretty bad sign things are going catastrophically wrong for these animals.”

Despite the devastating blow to the population, some experts don’t think the koala is functionally extinct and have hope the species can recover.

“I do not believe koalas are functionally extinct – yet,” Australian Museum koala geneticist Rebecca Johnson told CNET. “That said, the fires are likely to have had a huge impact on what we know are some extremely valuable populations who are important for the long term survival of the species. Koalas are the iconic reminder of what is happening more broadly to our biodiversity and our ecosystems, directly as a result of human impacts. They should be the catalyst to start and have these conversations to understand and protect all our biodiversity because they aren’t the only species that needs protecting.”

The government needs to stop coddling industries and start protecting the environment and wildlife. Because once it’s all gone, there won’t be much reason for anyone to visit Australia and living there could be intolerable. There’s no government without a nation to actually govern. This is an emergency and the government has the power to do something about it before it’s too late.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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