Koalas have been declared “functionally extinct” in Australia by wildlife experts after the destruction of 80 percent of their habitation in the recent, devastating bushfires.
When species has been declared functionally extinct, it means that the animal population has declined so much that they can no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem, rendering their long-term survival unviable.
Koalas, which is one of the most recognized wildlife species in Australia, may go to extinct within our lifetime. Wildlife campaigners claim that this year’s Australian bushfires may have caused such massive losses to the koalas’ population and habitation that they may never recover their numbers.
According to Deborah Tabart, head of the Australian Koala Foundation, at least 1000 koalas have been killed in the fires, and at least 80 percent of their habitation have been destroyed, despite their intense and heroic efforts to save them.
She said that even those that survived the bushfires will now struggle to find food because “there is so little habitat left and trees with eucalyptus take months to grow back.”
Tabart has urged the federal government to pass the Koala Protection Act, which is modeled after the Bald Eagle Protection Act from the U.S., and it aims to safeguard koalas’ habitats.
“[Koalas] are equivalent to the Great Barrier Reef. Everyone wants to touch a koala, so you would think the government would want to do something to save them. The plight of the koala now falls on the Prime Minister’s shoulders.”
Koalas are vulnerable to bushfires because of their slow movements and the flammability of eucalypt trees. To make things even worse, these cute animals instinctively seek refuge in the higher branches, where they’re exposed to intense heat and flames.
These species typically inhabit open eucalypt woodlands. The leaves of these trees make up most of their diet.
However, since eucalypt trees have limited nutritional and caloric content, koalas are mostly sedentary (a type of lifestyle involving little or no physical activity), and they move really slowly. They also sleep up to 20 hours a day.
Even before this year’s horrific bushfires, koalas had already been considered vulnerable to extinction. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) previously estimated that these iconic symbols of the continent could be extinct by 2050, due to deforestation and human expansion.
Back in May 2019, the Australian Koala Foundation had also suspected that there are less than 80,000 koalas left, leaving the species ‘functionally extinct.’
There are many videos on the Internet where good people are rescuing koalas from the fire. For instance, a clip of a woman has gone viral after she was captured on camera running to save a burning Koala.