The number of koalas is rapidly declining and the animal should be considered endangered, according to a new report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Biolink.
Decades of drought, bush fires, and urbanization in Australia have caused the species to decline by two-thirds over the past three generations. Bushfires alone have caused at least 5,000 koalas to die, and the unprecedented fires that recently overwhelmed Australia featured countless koala casualties.
“Koalas were already living on the brink before these fires, with populations declining in many areas due to excessive land clearing, disease and roadkill, and local extinctions already known to have occurred,” Josey Sharrad, IFAW wildlife campaigner, said in a statement. “This disaster and the ongoing nature of the threats could push koalas over the edge.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) catalogues the status of animals, fungi, and plants around the world and determines whether or not a species should be included on its “red list,” which flags species that are threatened and endangered and calls for heightened protection measures.
The organization exhaustively studies wildlife to ensure its assessments are supported by all available evidence and backed by leading scientists.
Koalas are currently considered “vulnerable” by the IUCN, but the last assessment was made in 2014.
IFAW is urging relevant organizations to conduct a new assessment to determine if the koala warrants increased protections. In addition to factors causing koalas to be displaced and killed, their sources of food and water are disappearing, IFAW notes.
As a result, they argue that protecting the koala requires a new level of urgency.
“This is a koala emergency,” Sharradshe said. “Koalas must be immediately up-listed to endangered on an emergency basis and a moratorium on all harmful activities impacting koalas enforced to allow surviving populations some breathing space while their capacity to recover is further assessed.”
If a species is deemed endangered, then it usually sets in motion a chain reaction of conservation measures. Regions where the species lives may be protected from industrial activity, and humans who interfere with or harm the species may be subject to criminal punishment.
Biodiversity is declining around the world. The IUCN currently lists 112,400 species on its "red list," with more than 30,000 species prone to extinction. All animal types, from mammals to insects, have declined over the past several decades due to climate change, land loss, pollution, and other factors.