Threatened by bushfires and ongoing habitat destruction, the koala is being officially considered for listing as endangered by the Australian government. The species is now seen as ‘vulnerable’ according to local environmental laws but this could soon change as the number of koalas keeps dropping.
The government is also considering upgrading the status of the greater glider to endangered, as 30% of its habitat range was affected by bushfires. Several frog and fish species, such as the Blue Mountains perch and Pugh’s frog, are also being considered for critically endangered listing, as well as some species of kangaroo.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley asked the threatened species scientific committee to complete its assessments by October next year. The koala assessment will consider the combined populations of New South Wales, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory. The species is under multiple sources of pressure such as drought, wildfire, and habitat destruction.
Environmental groups nominated the species for re-listing as endangered and welcome the government’s move but asked for further measures. “We welcome prioritization for the koala but also hope the process can be sped up and the koala listed as endangered before October 2021,” Nicola Beynon of Humane Society International, told The Guardian.
The Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a wildlife conservation organization, said that at least 5,000 koalas have died to the wildfires seen in 2019 and 2020. That’s about 12% of the population of koalas in the New South Wales area, which the NGO said is an intentionally low calculation.
If further measures aren’t implemented to prevent habitat loss, koalas could become extinct in New South Wales before 2050, according to a recent parliamentary inquiry. The findings concluded that the government estimate that there are 36,000 koalas in the state is outdated and unreliable.
The report also found habitat loss remains the largest threat to the species’ survival and yet logging and clearing of habitat has continued. It said this habitat loss had been compounded by the 2019-20 bushfires, with an estimated 24% of koala habitat on public land affected. In some areas, as much as 81% of habitat had been burnt.
“Given the scale of loss as a result of the fires to many significant local populations, the committee believes the koala will become extinct in New South Wales well before 2050 and that urgent government intervention is required to protect their habitat and address all other threats to their ongoing survival,” the report said.
But concerns go much beyond just the koalas. Australia’s environment is in an unsustainable state of decline and laws set up to protect unique species and habitats are ineffective, according to a recent review of the country’s environmental framework. The report suggested massive changes such as a new set of legally enforceable national standards and creating a new environmental regulator.
Australia is currently reviewing the status of 108 species, which could move to endangered or critically endangered, including reptiles, frogs, fish, mammals, and birds. After making it to the list, the species will now be assessed by a scientific committee, which will have to make a recommendation to the minister regarding its status.