Cute but armed with sharp, talon-like claws, the koala is part of Australia’s identity, just like the famous kangaroo. The 2014 assessment of the International Union for Conservation of Nature is quite accurate: Koalas suffered a decrease in population, mostly due to droughts brought about by climate change.

“Vulnerable species”

The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) hopes to pass into law the Koala Protection Act as a conservation initiative. Despite the koala being listed as vulnerable species in 2014, their population is still in rapid decline.

Koalas on fire

The Australian bushfire wreaked havoc on the lives of many creatures. According to a 2020 article from The Telegraph, an estimated 25,000 koalas are believed to have been killed in these fires.

Social media was abuzz with stories of koalas being rescued from the fire and young koala being orphaned. Around 24 people have been killed in these bushfires as well.

Kangaroo Island, located in the south of Australia. After the fire tore through the land, carcasses of different animals were spotted all over the territory.

Kangaroo Island has a unique role in ecology. It is a critical habitat for most animals, because invasive species have not been introduced to the area. In otherwords, it is one of the few places where the biodiversity remains undisturbed.

“Functionally extinct”

Rumors have been circulating about koalas being “functionally extinct.” However, according to a 2019 article written by Natasha Daly published in National Geographic, this is not the case.

A species is considered functionally extinct if it no longer has enough individual members to produce future generations or play a role in the ecosystem.

The koala’s habitat range is large, extending along Australia’s entire Eastern coast. The forest area in Eastern Australia is more than 100 million hectares. Despite this fact, koalas have been vulnerable to extinction even before the bushfire.

David Bowman, the landscape fire expert, argues that in addition to protecting land, it’s vital to start looking at rewilding and relocating koalas. “We’ve got to get with the program and start adapting,” says Bowman. “If we want koalas, we’ve got to look after them. We need to step up.”

Koalas vs Climate Change

According to a 2020 article from The New York Times, climate change played a major role in the early start and continuous damage of the Australian bushfires. Last year was the hottest and driest on record. Although Australia is normally hot and dry in the summer, climate change brings longer and more frequent periods of extreme heat.

This detail concides with the IUCN’s assessment of climate change playing a major role in the decimation of the koala population. The whole world contributes to climate change, with the largest contribution of greenhouse gases coming from animal agriculture.

In a 2018 report published by non-profit organization GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the world’s top five meat and dairy corporations are now responsible for more annual greenhouse gas emissions than Exxon, Shell, or BF.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s November-December 2020 issue.

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