SYDNEY – Australia’s iconic Koalas are at risk of extinction from several regions in the eastern part of the country, owing to urbanization, climate change and an increase in agricultural and mining activities.
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), which in aboriginal language means “no drink” (as it gets 90 percent of its water requirements from the eucalyptus leaves it eats), is considered a vulnerable species in Queensland, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory.
“It depends on the pressure they are exposed to, but in some areas, the Koalas would be on the brink of disappearing in around 20 years if their habitats continue to be destroyed,” Christine Adams-Hosking, author of a study published on Friday by the World Wildlife Fund, told EFE.
According to the report, felling of trees reduced Koala population in Queensland by 53 percent and by 26 percent in New South Wales.
Studies conducted by the WWF into the population density of Koalas, reveal a grave situation in the southeast of Queensland, where some 179 Koalas reportedly died between 2013-2015, in an area of 44 square kilometers (around 17 square miles).
Since the European colonization, the Koalas, which have been living in Australia for 25 million years, have been losing their habitats also due to climate change and a commercial demand for their fur until the 1930s.
According to Adams-Hosking, the disappearance of Koalas is a sign of a greater catastrophe because their habitats are carbon sinks, and destruction of these would affect the natural ecosystem.
The presence of Koalas also aid in the pollination of plants and helps in maintaining a healthy soil.
Moreover, the loss of habitats involves other dangers for the marsupials which, in the search of new habitats, face the risk of getting run over on highways – they need an average of 40 seconds to cross them – or getting attacked by dogs and dingoes.
The author explained every year at least 200 Koalas land up in veterinary hospitals – of which only two percent survive – because of injuries caused by getting run over by vehicles or being attacked by animals.
With climate change, Koalas in regions far from the coast will have to face warmer temperatures and lesser availability of water, according to Adams-Hosking.
She adds that the government, and communities, should think strategically about how to prevent the continuous destruction of Koala habitats, and how to repopulate them.