Conservation group says koalas 'functionally extinct'

One of Australia's foremost environmental organizations has declared koala bears “functionally extinct" and is calling on the Australian government to take action. 

The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) issued a report Thursday, warning that there only 80,000 koalas left on the continent, and that there aren’t enough breeding adults to support another generation of the pouched marsupial.

“I am calling on the new Prime Minister after the May election to enact the Koala Protection Act (KPA) which has been written and ready to go since 2016,” AKA chairman and CEO Deborah Tabart OAM said in a press release. “The plight of the Koala now falls on his shoulders.

The press release noted that even though the Australian government launched an inquiry into the declining population of koalas in 2011, almost no legislation has been passed to protect the species in the last six years.

“I know the Australian public are concerned for the safety of Koalas and are tired of seeing dead Koalas on our roads,” she said, adding that it’s time for officials “to respect the Koala and protect its habitat.”

According to the non-profit, only 41 of the 128 known habitats in Australia have any of the species left. Experts say this decline can be primarily attributed to heatwaves and drought caused by the effects of climate change.

Advocates say the proposed bill could help prevent further decline of the species. The law would be focused on protecting the habitats of koalas given that current Australian law only protects the species themselves. 

The Koala Protection Act is based on a U.S. law, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which helped the national emblem get off the threatened species list.

“The Bald Eagle Act was successful because there was political motive to ensure their icon did not go extinct,” Tabart wrote. “It is time for the Koala to be afforded the same respect.”

—Tess Bonn