AUSTRALIA - Koalas might be “functionally extinct” in Australia, according to the Australian Koala Foundation, and the organization is calling for the country’s prime minister to take action to protect the species.
The AFK believes there may be no more than 80,000 koalas left in Australia, which is about 1 percent of the 8 million that once thrived. Many were shot for their fur or sent to London between 1890 and 1927, according to the foundation.
The main causes for the koalas’ loss of habitat are the eucalyptus trees they live in being destroyed by brush fires, land clearings and disease. About 80 percent of the koalas’ habitats have disappeared.
The organization also estimates that because of the loss of their habitats, around 4,000 koalas are killed by dogs and cars each year.
Since 2010, the AFK has monitored 128 federal electorates that fall within the range of a koala’s habitat. They discovered recently that 41 of those areas no longer have any koalas, meaning they are extinct for that region.
Only five electorates have more than 5,000 koalas. Ten have between 1,000 and 5,000, 46 have 500 to 100 koalas and 26 have less than 100.
The organization has worked for more than 31 years with 13 environment ministers to find ways to protect the marsupials. In 2012, the animals were listed as vulnerable under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, but the population continues to dwindle.
AFK is calling for the Australian Legislature to create the Koala Protection Act, which would not just protect the species but its habitats. The organization said the act is meant to replicate the Bald Eagle Act, which works with both the Federal Endangered Species Act and the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S.
“The Bald Eagle Act was successful because there was political motive to ensure their icon did not go extinct. It is time for the koala to be afforded the same respect,” the organization said in a letter to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The foundation said they have a list of different types of eucalyptus trees that must be protected under the act.
Until such measures are taken, the organization is urging people to help by symbolically adopting a koala, providing further funding to the group by making a donation or planting a tree to reform the animals’ habitats.
You can go to savethekoala.com to learn more about koalas and what the foundation is doing to save them.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.