Quantcast

Koalas Become 'Functionally Extinct' in Australia With Just 80,000 Left

Animals
Wild Koala on the side of the Great Ocean road in Victoria, Australia. John Crux Photography / Moment / Getty Images

Koala species down under are now considered "functionally extinct" as the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) says there are no more than 80,000 individuals left on the continent. Once a population falls below a critical point, it can no longer produce the next generation, ultimately leading to the species' extinction.


"The AKF thinks there are no more than 80,000 Koalas in Australia. This is approximately 1% of the 8 million Koalas that were shot for fur and sent to London between 1890 and 1927," said AKF chairman Deborah Tabart, adding that the population could be as low as 43,000.

The organization has been monitoring koala populations in 128 of Australia's electorates for nearly a decade. Since then, 41 have seen the marsupials go extinct. However, the AKF estimate is much lower than other population predictions, albeit outdated ones. For example, the International Union of Conservation of Nature Red List of Endangered Species lists koalas as "vulnerable" with decreasing numbers, estimating in 2014 that there are between 100,000 and 500,000 mature individuals left in the wild.

So what does functionally extinct mean? The Conversation reports it means that koala populations have declined so far that the species no longer plays a significant role in its ecosystem.

Native only to the eastern side of the continent, an adult koala can eat as much as 1 kilogram of Eucalyptus leaves each night, according to AKF. Eucalyptus is normally poisonous to most species, but koalas have evolved a special bacteria that allow them to break down toxic compounds. Because they only absorb around 25 percent of fiber eaten, important nutrients and other organic material to the forest floor. Functional extinction also means that koalas are can no longer successfully reproduce in the wild to replace the population. Even if they are still breeding, pairs may be inbreeding which can further threaten future viability.

Perhaps more at-heart is the emblematic role koalas have on Australian culture.

"The koala is one of Australia's most recognizable symbols, but its survival hangs in the balance," said the San Diego Zoo. "Formerly thought to be common and widespread, koalas are now vulnerable to extinction across much of its northern range."

In the past, koalas were killed for their coats — between 1919 and 1924 eight million koalas were killed. Today, koalas are threatened by domestic dogs and disease, along with increasing encroachment due to human development, logging and wood harvesting, and droughts and extreme weather associated with climate change.

Though koalas are currently protected by law, almost 80 percent of remaining habitat occurs on privately owned land with very little protection offered under the legislation. This is why the AKF is calling for the need for a Koala Protection Act (KPA).

"I know the Australian public are concerned for the safety of Koalas and are tired of seeing dead Koalas on our roads. It is time for the Government to respect the Koala and protect its habitat," said Tabart.

According to the AKF, the Australian government was required to establish a National Recovery Plan in 2012 but has neglected to do so in the last six years. Framework for KPA is based on the Bald Eagle Act in the U.S., which incorporates both Federal Endangered Species Act and environmental protection policies in place. In part, AKF notes that the American act has been so successful because of political motive to ensure the nation's icon did not go extinct.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Emily Deanne

Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.

Read More Show Less
Kokia drynarioides, commonly known as Hawaiian tree cotton, is a critically endangered species of flowering plant that is endemic to the Big Island of Hawaii. David Eickhoff / Wikipedia

By Lorraine Chow

Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Frederick Bass / Getty Images

States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
A couple works in their organic garden. kupicoo / E+ / Getty Images

By Kristin Ohlson

From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A competitor in action during the Drambuie World Ice Golf Championships in Uummannaq, Greenland on April 9, 2001. Michael Steele / Allsport / Getty Images

Greenland is open for business, but it's not for sale, Greenland's foreign minister Ane Lone Bagger told Reuters after hearing that President Donald Trump asked his advisers about the feasibility of buying the world's largest island.

Read More Show Less
AFP / Getty Images / S. Platt

Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.

Read More Show Less
Newly established oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Hans Nicholas Jong

Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.

It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."

Read More Show Less