Australia

Calls to declare koalas as 'endangered' after reported 5,000 deaths

Vets with compassion have been flown in to care for injured koala's in Victoria Source: Animals Australia

A report has found 5,000 koalas are likely to have died in NSW bushfires this summer with experts calling on the marsupial to be listed as an endangered species.

Conservation groups want the state government to make an emergency endangered species declaration for Australia's koalas after a report found it was likely 5,000 died in NSW during the summer's devastating bushfires.

The report, commissioned by the global conservation group the International Fund for Animal Welfare, looked at how fires across seven regions had affected koalas already in decline from habitat destruction, climate change and drought. 

The report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and ecological consultant group Biolink looked at how the recent bushfires impacted the state's already declining koala population.

Koalas have already been under stress from land clearing, urban development and the drought with the state's population declining by between 30 and 67 per cent since 2001, the report found.

The data, published on Wednesday, found more than five million hectares of land had burnt and at least 5000 koalas had died in the bushfires from October last year to 10 January this year.

IFAW wildlife campaigner Josey Sharrad said this is a conservative estimate with further research to be completed covering the bushfires until 10 February.

Ms Sharrad also said it doesn't include the number of koalas which will die because their habitats have been destroyed by fire.

"The surviving koalas have nowhere to go," she told AAP.

A koala is rescued from the fires on Kangaroo Island.
A koala is rescued from the fires on Kangaroo Island.
AAP

IFAW is calling for an emergency listing to move koalas from vulnerable to endangered to make sure the marsupial is protected as the population starts to recover.

"We want them to have breathing space to recover because they've been hit so hard," she said.

"The prolonged drought, excess land clearing, habitat loss and now the fires - it's hit at the heart of so many significant koala populations."

Biolink principal research scientist Dr Stephen Philips told The Guardian: "We've taken a conservative approach. But we still think that we have lost two out of every three koalas in NSW. It's a spectacular loss in terms of conservation criteria and meet endangered listing almost immediately."

“We realised the numbers [lost] were getting quite dire, but we also appreciated there was a need for a careful quantitative assessment of what’s happened,” he said. 

"The situation won't get better. It will get worse.

"For koalas, the threat for extinction (in NSW) becomes elevated because they won't be able to get their numbers up before the next fire event."

An emergency listing would give the marsupial extra protection from harmful activities such as logging while the government completes a thorough assessment of the species.

IFAW has made a nomination to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee which will then make a recommendation on the listing but the power to declare koalas endangered lies with NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean.

"These fires have been a game-changer," Ms Sharrad said.

"Everything needs to be re-thought. They're literally fighting for their survival."

koala
AP/Mark Parden

Ms Sharrad also called for a halt on land clearing and urban developments in known koala habitats to further help the species.

The report also found koalas are facing "serious challenges" for long-term survival because of their low reproductive rate and the increasing impact of climate change.

"The consequence of more frequent fires is that remaining koala populations are simply not able to recover from one fire event before being subjected to another," the report found.

Mr Kean has been contacted for comment.

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