Australia bushfires killed at least 5,000 koalas in latest blow to marsupials

Animals now need emergency ‘endangered’ listing to increase protection, says International Fund for Animal Welfare

Firefighters drive through New South Wales bushfires

At least 5,000 koalas died in the recent bushfires in Australia in the latest blow to the marsupials, conservationists have said.

An assessment of the animals in New South Wales estimates that almost 12 per cent of the state’s population perished between October and January in the devastating fires, and warns that the real figure is likely to be higher.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) study also said that up to two-thirds of the koala population has been lost in the past three generations because of drought, bushfires and human activity.

Wildlife campaigners described the situation as a “koala emergency” and have called for urgent protection measures for the species, which is considered to be “vulnerable” to extinction.

They want New South Wales koalas to be given an emergency “endangered” listing to increase their protection.

Climate change and the resulting wildfires pose an immediate, ongoing and significant threat of extinction to the koala population in the state, the report argues.

The bushfires burned 5.1 million hectares (12.6 million acres) of land in New South Wales.

Josey Sharrad, IFAW campaigner, said: “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. This disaster and the ongoing nature of the threats could push koalas over the edge.

“This is a koala emergency. Koalas must be immediately uplisted 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.”

The study’s analysis covered 15 weeks from 1 October 2019 to 10 January 2020 and is described as a “conservative” estimate.

The conservationists warned that further assessment, covering the month to 10 February, means the final figures are expected to be even worse.

They also said that the hundreds of thousands of hectares of habitat that were not burnt but were rendered unsuitable for koalas as a result of dry conditions had not been taken into account.

PA

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