Our beloved marsupial friend, the koala, is feared to be on the brink of being totally wiped out as wildfires continue to ravage Australia, destroying their natural habitat.
Experts had first feared that a few hundred koalas died in the devastating bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland over the last two months, but Deborah Tabart, chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation, has now estimated that more than 1,000 koalas have been killed during the horrific fires.
350 – 600 koalas have died in the
NSW fires! ?
— MR. ®️ight ? (@Hiimroi) November 16, 2019
The fires have left koalas in a state of “functionally extinct” meaning that they are likely unable to recover, Tarbat told Daily Mail Australia.
The BBC describes the term ‘functionally extinct’ as:
“…an animal population which has so few pairs that they are unlikely to produce a new generation. Species who breed in such a thinned-out time frame 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 states that the number of deaths due to the fire have reached apocalyptic proportions when referring to the koala population.
“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.”
Tarbat stated that near the coastal township of Port Macquarie alone, more than 350 koalas have been killed by the bushfires.
Similarly, in places like Crows Nest and Lake Toowoomba, frightening wildfires have decimated koala habitats but the full number dead koalas is yet to be known.
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.”
Although some koalas may have survived, due to their prolonged breeding timescale, the long-term risk to the species is still very high.
“Because of deforestation and now the bushfires, there is so little habitat left and trees with eucalyptus take months to grow back.”
With arid conditions worsening year upon year the impact of climate change getting progressively worse, the koalas’ habitat is also at risk, decreasing the likelihood of any recovery. In the next 25 years, rainfall is forecast to be very low in the western regions of NSW.
Koalas are a symbolic animal in Australia and an animal that is instantly recognized by people all over the world. It was even featured as last year’s Commonwealth Games mascot.
Tabart is accusing the Australian government of inherent failures in protecting the species, for example, not passing the Koala Protection act written in 2016.
“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.”
Hospitals with the sole purpose of treating Koalas who have been badly burnt or injured have become inundated with the animals and the centers are drawing massive support from volunteers all across the country.
Amanda Gordon, team leader at Koala Hospital Port Macquarie told Newshub that koala bodies are just not turning up, meaning that the population has likely been decimated.
“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 animals. A sharp increase from the initial goal of $25,000.
Their campaign hopes to install automatic drinking stations for koalas in the areas devastated by the fires.
Donations have been pouring in after a harrowing video appeared, depicting the dramatic moment when a woman rushed into a raging brushfire to save an injured koala.
The video showed the badly burned koala, with patches of missing fur, running near the fires before the woman, Toni Doherty, saved him by dousing the animal with bottles of water and wrapping him in a blanket.