(TMU) — The beloved koala is feared to be on the brink of total annihilation as wildfires continue to grip Australia, laying waste to the marsupials’ natural habitat.
While experts initially feared that hundreds of koalas died in the devastating bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland over the last two months, Deborah Tabart—chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation—estimates that over 1,000 of the creatures have been killed in the deforestation and blazes.
350 – 600 koalas have died in the
NSW fires! 💔
— MR. ®️ight 👅 (@Hiimroi) November 16, 2019
Now more than ever, this has left koalas “functionally extinct” and thus unable to recover, she told Daily Mail Australia.
According to BBC, the term “functionally extinct” describes an animal population which has so few pairs that they are unlikely to produce a new generation. It also describes species who breed in such thinned-out amounts that they are especially susceptible to falling ill from disease.
Meet Kate. She was saved by rescuer Darrel from Bellangry State Forest, NSW east. Kate suffers from extensive burns to her entire body. She is the lucky few. Kate arrived dehydrated & sore but is in the best care at Koala Hospital. Great team effort from donors, volunteers etc ❤ pic.twitter.com/SVyWLjaiTo
— Miz One Earth 🥄🌏 (@MizOneEarth) November 14, 2019
Tabart explained that the death toll in the ongoing blaze has likely reached apocalyptic proportions in regard to the koala population. She said:
“If we combine all of the estimated deaths of koalas in the bushfires, there could be 1000 koalas that have been killed in the last two months.
We know there are 31 koalas that have been killed in Port Macquarie, but I think that is not a high enough number.”
The koala expert also noted that at least 350 koalas were likely killed in the bushfires near the coastal township of Port Macquarie.
We are getting lots of contact from people asking how the burnt koalas are progressing. This is Lake Innes Nature…
Similarly frightful fires have plagued koala habitats in places like Crows Nest and Lake Toowoomba, but a full account of dead koalas has yet to be taken into account.
Tabart fears the worst:
“We think there are 18,000 koalas in New South Wales alone, so the bushfires have had a massive impact on their population.”
And while some koalas may have survived, this doesn’t lessen the long-term risk the species faces. Tabart added:
“Because of deforestation and now the bushfires, there is so little habitat left and trees with eucalyptus take months to grow back.”
Climate change and arid conditions are also a threat to the koalas’ habitat, decreasing the likelihood of any recovery. The next quarter-century is not expected to entail much rain in the western regions of NSW.
This is L.I.N.R. Peter ( Lake Innes Nature Reserve) who has come from the Crestwood/Lake Innes fireground. He has burns…
Koalas remain an internationally-recognized symbol of Australia that was even featured as the mascot for last year’s Commonwealth Games.
However, Tabart has accused the government of failing to offer proper protections to the species, such as passing the Koala Protection act written in 2016. She explained:
“They 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.”
A trained koala detection dog, named Bear, is sniffing out charred bushland for injured animals that have been caught in Queensland and NSW bushfires. https://t.co/Ome4hpHUJp #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/MTG8eoppPS
— 7NEWS Wide Bay (@7NewsWideBay) November 19, 2019
Koala hospitals have been inundated with badly injured and burned koalas, drawing the support of volunteers across the country.
Koala Hospital Port Macquarie team leader Amanda Gordon told Newshub that koala bodies are simply not turning up, which means that the population was likely decimated. She said:
“We’ve got teams going out on the fire grounds still as we speak, looking for wildlife. We are not seeing a lot, which means they’ve been burnt.”
Gordon’s hospital has raised over $1 million to help the injured marsupials—far more than the initial fundraising goal of $25,000.
Their campaign hopes to install automatic drinking stations for koalas in the areas devastated by the fires.
Donations began pouring in after dramatic footage emerged of a woman running into a raging brushfire to save an injured koala named Ellenborough Lewis. Video showed the koala, badly burned with patches of fur missing, running near the fires before the woman, Toni Doherty, saved him by pouring bottles of water on him and wrapping him in a blanket.