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Australia’s koala population plummets

Koalas could be in deep trouble. Their numbers have dropped by 20-60 percent in six years, owing to habitat loss and the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia.

If the steep decline continues unchecked, Australia’s iconic tree-climbing koala could be extinct by 2040, the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) said this week. The foundation is a charity dedicated to the conservation and effective management of the wild koala and its habitat.

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NGS photo by Joe Scherschel

AKF CEO Deborah Tabart is concerned that the Australian administration will remain reluctant to list the koala as a threatened species, the foundation said in a statement.

The AKF released the latest koala census ahead of a meeting by the government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee. The foundation has been trying for years to get the koala listed as a threatened species, an important step for recovery and threat abatement. Previous administrations have not been swayed that the marsupial warrants this status, however.

“Once you get into power you realise that developers and infrastructure builders do not like the environment in the way,” Tabart said.

“Our scientists have scoured every inch of the maps, read every piece of literature available, and we are ready for the fight of our lives.”

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NGS photo by Anne Keiser

To produce the latest estimates of koala numbers, the AKF’s researchers visited 1,800 field sites and examined 80,000 trees. Koalas spend much of their lives up trees, especially eucalyptus, their main diet. 

“We are sure we have it right. There could be as few as 43,000 and no more than 80,000 koalas left on the mainland of Australia. We know this because we have the science, and the koala habitat is just not there,” Tabart said.

“Previous estimates [made in 2003] were around 100,000, but the data is now more accurate,” Tabart added.

“The koalas are missing everywhere we look.”