(TMU) — Koalas have been significantly impacted due to the summer’s unprecedented bushfire crisis and accompanying drought, prompting warnings from scientists that the beloved marsupial could face extinction in parts of Australia within the next three decades.
The stark warning comes as researchers informed a parliamentary inquiry in New South Wales (NSW) that koala populations are facing “death by a thousand cuts,” especially after the grievous damage wrought by the fires.
Roughly 10,000 koalas are expected to have perished throughout the region, encompassing up to 80 percent of the local population in parts of northern NSW such as Rappville and Wardell, reports ABC.
Dr. Stuart Blanch, a conservation scientist with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), told 7News that the species is “heading towards extinction increasingly.”
Blanch told the parliamentary committee that the estimated deaths have shot far past previous estimates, which numbered the deaths of koalas in NSW at around 8,000. He said:
“What I’ve heard from people doing the surveys is that we might have lost 10,000 koalas from the fires and the droughts.
It’s brought forward a 2050 extinction projected timeline for most of the populations across the state by years.”
Continuing, Dr. Blanch demanded a new statewide census to accurately count the remaining koalas in the region, describing previous estimates of 36,000 in NSW as “outdated.”
“It was worse than we thought,” he added in comments to the Sydney Morning Herald.
This is climate change. So far, an area larger than the entire country of Portugal has been torched by the Australia wildfires. At least 25,000 koalas have died and countless more have recieved terrible burns. pic.twitter.com/d8kLVXXolu
— The Climate Cure (@TheClimateCure) February 19, 2020
The losses have prompted calls from some scientists to change the status of the koalas, who are currently listed by the government as a “vulnerable” population. Ecologist Dr. Steve Phillips of the Biolink consultancy told the Herald:
“The scale of what happened is spectacularly huge, it’s incomprehensible.
Its status needs to be updated to endangered from vulnerable.”
Dr. Kelli Leigh from the Science for Wildlife Charity, which has rescued at least a dozen koalas from the fires, also explained that at least 1,000 koalas have felt the sharp impact of the bushfires in the greater Blue Mountains region alone.
Eucalyptus is not high in nutrition, so it’s important koalas have the best abundance of leaves possible. Our team have been crucial in sourcing food for the fire-affected koalas on Kangaroo Island. It’s a tough job, but seeing them enjoy their food makes it all worthwhile! 🍃 pic.twitter.com/6kLdHkQbqb
— Wildlife Warriors (@wildwarriors) February 15, 2020
Dr. Leigh explained:
“Four different koala populations that we know of, which have hundreds in each population, have been impacted. Some have had 100 per cent of their habitat burnt out.
[But] we just don’t know what the full impact is yet, because we have to wait until it’s safe to go in, to see what’s survived.”
The historic bushfire season consumed over 12 million acres (5 million hectares) of land until rainstorms and firefighting efforts finally ended the fires earlier this month.
Over a billion animals are estimated to have been killed by the fires along with hundreds of billions of invertebrate creatures.
The massive loss of life constitutes a major blow to biodiversity in a country where 87 percent of wildlife is endemic, meaning it can only be found in Australia.
BACK HOME: Clare the koala, who was rescued from bushfires in Australia, carefully inspected her options before selecting her first tree to climb after being released from a sanctuary over the weekend. https://t.co/mM2EQG11D2 pic.twitter.com/YZjs6qAsim
— ABC News (@ABC) February 17, 2020
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