Australian koalas on danger list
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Australian koalas on danger list

Australia’s iconic bear – the koala – will become extinct in 10 years unless a national protection is given, Green activists have warned.

The Friends of the Earth and the Gippsland Bush have slammed the Federal Government for its failure to enlist the koala in the Gippsland region of Victoria under the nationwide endangered species list.

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Tony Burke said on Monday koalas in Victoria and South Australia should not be listed due to their abundant numbers in the said regions.

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Oprah Winfrey cuddles a koala during her visit to Australia in 2010. (Photo: AP)

He admitted though that the marsupial is facing possible extinction in three states s- Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Real estate developments in recent years are said to have primarily displaced them from their natural habitat.

More than 40 percent of the species is reported to have disappeared in Queensland while it dropped by third in NSW over the past 20 years. In the ACT region, koalas have completely disappeared, the SMH also reported.

Koala advocates led by the Australia Koala Foundation have been pushing for the enlistment of the species under endangered category since 1996, but the federal government has been ignoring the issue.

Last year, Greens Senator Larissa Waters had pushed for the marsupials to be listed as a nationally threatened species. She said that with fewer than 5000 koalas left in southeast Queensland, for example, they may become extinct during the next 10 years.

However, until now, the Environment Minister is not convinced that the species should be listed under the national endangered list, saying the animals abound in Victoria and South Australia.

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Sam the koala became famous around the world after this photo was taken during the Victorian bushfires. (Photo:Reuters)

He therefore announced that koala has been listed under endangered species category covering the three states, but not a national listing following a three year scientific assessment by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee. He said a species is usually not considered endangered if it is bountiful in some locations.

Following the announcement, the FOE and the Gippsland Bush blasted Burke for not listing the Gippsland’s Strzelecki Ranges koala as endangered or vulnerable.

In a media statement, the Green activists said the future of the Strzelecki Koala is “bleak”, adding that the species has lost 50 percent of its habitat in the past decade due to logging and fire.

FOE spokesperson Anthony Amis said almost the entire habitat of the Strzelecki koala is in private hands. He said the Hancock Victorian Plantations has converted close to 10,000 hectares of koala habitat over the past 14 years. Add to this was the 2009 Churchill and Boolarra bushfires which burnt out approximately 20,000ha of koala habitat.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Strzelecki koalas were killed during those fires. After 14 years of logging key koala habitat, Hancock Victorian Plantations still do not have a koala management plan, and 75% of logs from the Strzelecki Ranges end up at Maryvale Pulp Mill owned by Nippon Paper.

The activists groups claim that most of Victoria’s koalas are translocated from the South Gippsland to the French Island in the 1880s. These koalas are said to have a low genetic diversity compared to the only native koala population which is based in the Strzelecki Ranges.

Amis is convinced that the “genetically superior Strzelecki koala” holds the key to the preservation of the species in Victoria, because translocated koalas suffer from a range of problems, many of which are the result of inbreeding.

The Strzelecki koala does not suffer from the problems of inbreeding which makes it more robust than its translocated cousins. “Its population is clearly unique in the context of Victorian and South Australian koalas. This simple fact appears to have eluded the Minister.”

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Environment Minister Tony Burke's deliberation at the Parliament House in Canberra. (Photo: The Australian)

In a related development, the Envronment Minister lashed out at the new Queensland Priemere Campbell Newman who released a statement claiming the koala protection law as a “needless duplication” and a “mindless red tape.” Newman claims that the environmental law will only serve as a red tape to potentially slow down the construction industry.