Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Koalas Face Extinction Threat After Wildfires: New Report

Animals
Koalas Face Extinction Threat After Wildfires: New Report
Koalas are clinging to life in bushfire-ravaged Australia, as seen here on Jan. 9, 2020. Ninian Reed / CC BY 2.0

Australian conservation groups are asking the government to declare koalas endangered after the devastating wildfires this summer killed thousands of them and destroyed 45 million acres of bush that they call home, according to a new report from the conservation group International Fund for Animal Welfare.


The report used witness accounts and satellite imagery to assess the damage to the koala population. It conservatively estimates that nearly 5,000 koalas were killed, which accounts for 12 percent of the population in New South Wales, according to CNN. Another report from the World Wide Fund for Nature found that nearly 10,000 koalas died in New South Wales, which would comprise one-third of the koala population, according to the Australian Broadcasting Company.

Dr. Stephen Philips, principal research scientist and koala ecologist at the environmental consultancy Biolink, which compiled the International Fund for Animal Welfare report, said: "We've taken a conservative approach. But we still think that we have lost two out of every three koalas in NSW. It's a spectacular loss in terms of conservation criteria and meets endangered listing almost immediately."

It also found that the intensity of the fires made it extremely difficult for koalas to escape to safety. The researchers estimated that in areas of intense burning, at least 70 percent of the koala population perished, according to the report's executive summary.

"Koalas are particularly vulnerable to bushfires as they are slow moving and live in eucalyptus trees that burn quickly and intensely," wrote Josey Sharrad from the International Fund for Animal Welfare to CNN. "When fires sweep through their homes, they often don't have time to escape, particularly in intense crown fires that rage through the treetops where they live," she added.

Those are troubling numbers since the koala population, prior to this summer's wildfires, had already experienced a nearly 20 percent population decline over the last three generations, which is about 18 years, according to the report.

The study looked at the effects of the wildfires from Oct. 1 to Jan. 10. The group expects to have a more complete picture of the threat koalas are under after it looks at data running through Feb. 10. The preliminary analysis shows a wide range of losses, anywhere from 29 percent to 67 percent of the koala population, according to the The Guardian. Even if the losses are on the conservative side, it still means nearly one-third of the population was lost in just a few months, plus much of their habitat was completely destroyed threatening their future viability.

"We realized the numbers [lost] were getting quite dire, but we also appreciated there was a need for a careful quantitative assessment of what's happened," said Phillips to The Guardian.

Stuart Blanch, a conservation scientist with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature argued that the losses mean a projected 2050 extinction for koalas has moved up and accelerated dramatically, so the marsupials should receive protected status, according to the Australian Broadcasting Company.

"What I've heard from people doing the surveys is that we might have lost 10,000 koalas from the fires and the droughts," said Blanch, as the Australian Broadcasting Company reported. "It's brought forward a 2050 extinction projected timeline for most of the populations across the state by years."

The new report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare backs up Blanch's assessment. It found "an immediate, ongoing and significant threat of extinction." According to CNN, the report states that koalas are eligible for a provisional listing as Endangered on an emergency basis under the New South Wales Biodiversity Conservation Act of 2016.

"Our koalas only stand a chance if we help," Sharrad said to CNN. "They are literally fighting for their survival. This rapid destruction of koala habitat, combined with climate change, is inflicting substantial stress and pushing the species towards extinction."

A deadly tornado touched down near the city of Fultondale, Alabama on Jan. 25, 2021. Justin1569 / Wikipedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

A tornado tore through a city north of Birmingham, Alabama, Monday night, killing one person and injuring at least 30.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An empty school bus by a field of chemical plants in "Cancer Alley," one of the most polluted areas of the U.S. that stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, where oil refineries and petrochemical plants reside alongside suburban homes. Giles Clarke / Getty Images

By David Konisky

On his first day in office President Joe Biden started signing executive orders to reverse Trump administration policies. One sweeping directive calls for stronger action to protect public health and the environment and hold polluters accountable, including those who "disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities."

Read More Show Less

Trending

Pixabay

By Katherine Kornei

Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.

Read More Show Less
Icebergs near Ilulissat, Greenland on Oct. 13, 2020. Climate change is having a profound effect with glaciers and the Greenland ice cap retreating. Ulrik Pedersen / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.

Read More Show Less
Caribbean islands such as Trinidad have plenty of water for swimming, but locals face water shortages for basic needs. Marc Guitard / Getty Images

By Jewel Fraser

Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.

Read More Show Less