The adorable Australian Koala, is not a bear, but a marsupial that carries its young in a pouch.
Sadly, the unprecedented bushfires in Australia in 2019-2020 saw tens of thousands of Koalas lose their lives, as well as 5 firefighters and 23 civilians. Over 5 million hectares burned in the province of New South Wales alone. The Australian government reported the fires were started by lightning.
Koalas named one of most vulnerable to climate change by ICUN
In 2009, Koalas were named as one of the ten animals most vulnerable to climate change, and in 2016 they were categorized as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) thinks, due to the 2019-2020 bushfire, that a change in status to endangered, should be considered.
Koalas have few predators who eat them, like dingoes, foxes and large owls, but are increasingly at risk due to drought and bigger wildfires, caused by climate change.
Before the early 20th century, Koalas were seen in large numbers in Australia, but then were slaughtered by early Australian settlers for their pelts. Koalas were also sometimes seen as pests, and culled. This practice is now very unpopular.
Koalas are negatively affected by logging and habitat fracturing, predation by cars, tame dogs, and drought. Carbon dioxide also affects the quality of nutrition in Eucalyptus leaves, the main staple in a Koala’s diet. It is illegal to hunt Koala in Australia, but many think they, and their habitat, should be more protected.
In 2012, the Koala was listed as ‘vulnerable to extinction‘, under Australian Law, but the EPBC Act (Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act), and its implementation, is proving controversial.
Adult Koalas weigh between nine and 33 lbs, or up to 15 kgs, and reach up to 33 inches (85 cm) long. Tiny babies, or joeys, are born after about 30 days gestation, and weigh only 0.5 g., or 0.02 oz. They are carried in their mother’s pouches for 13 weeks; when they open their eyes, and come out of their pouches for the first time. At nine months, Koalas are old enough to be carried around on their mother’s backs, and are weaned after one year. At this point, moms expect their children to be fully independent, as they are often pregnant with the next generation.
Koalas have large hooked claws, perfect for climbing trees; as well as an opposable thumb on their front paws, as well as hind paws. Eucalyptus leaves are hard to digest, making the animals slow, and requires them to rest for 18 to 22 hours per day.
The 2019-2020 Bushfires
Recently huge bushfires in over 150 nature parks and reserves had more than 50 percent of their areas burned. The chief executive of the Australian World Wildlife Federation, Dermot O’Gorman, thinks the 2019-20 bushfires were the “worst wildlife disasters in modern history”. In January 2020, for the first time in its history, Australia enacted a compulsory call out of the Defence Force Reserve Brigades. Over 6,500 ADF personnel alone were needed to address the fire, as part of Operation Bushfire Assist.
Koalas, who spend little time on the ground, were not able to outrun the fires. A Koala threatened with fire, often climbs to the top of a tree. Traditionally bushfires, sometimes do not reach the top of trees, but the size and strength of fires, in Australia, is increasing.
Unfortunately, the Koala was reintroduced by conservationists to Kangaroo Island, and in 2019-20 half the island burned. After the fires, many animals in Australia, including koalas, were in poor shape, and dehydrated; making them easier to catch by predators. Numerous animals also died from starvation.
Many conservatists, like the Australian Wildlife Conservatory (AWC), the Australian government, International Fund for Wildlife Welfare (IFWW), Australia Koala Foundation (AKF), and the World Wildlife Australia (WWF-Australia), have stepped up their efforts to help the Koala and its habitat.
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Koala. National Geographic. (April 11, 2010). https://www.google.ca/amp/s/api.nationalgeographic.com/distribution/public/amp/animals/mammals/k/koala
Independent Review Recommends Fundamental Reform of Archaic Ineffective EPBC Act. Allen’s. (July 22, 2020). https://www.allens.com.au/insights-news/insights/2020/07/independent-review-recommends-fundamental-reform-of-archaic-ineffective-epbc-act/#anchor1
IFAW calls for emergency uplisting of NSW koalas to endangered after report reveals true impact of bushfires. (March 3, 2020). Allen’s. https://www.ifaw.org/press-releases/emergency-uplisting-koalas-new-south-wales
AWC helps rescued Koala return to the bush. Science for Wildlife. (April 2, 2020). https://www.australianwildlife.org/awc-helps-rescued-koalas-return-to-the-bush/
Save the Koala. Australian Koala Foundation. (2020). https://www.savethekoala.com/about-us/about
A threatened icon.Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors and Wildlife Warriors Worldwide. (2020). https://wildlifewarriors.org.au/conservation-projects/koala-conservation