'A national shame': Koalas listed as endangered as numbers crash

·Environment Editor
·4-min read

Koala colonies have declined so significantly over the last decade, they have now been categorised as endangered.

The federal listing applies across NSW, Queensland and the ACT, the only states where sizeable genetically diverse populations remain.

While the animals survive in abundance in Victoria and South Australia, almost all were impacted by a near extinction event at the turn of last century which impacts their overall health today.

Habitat loss has been singled out as the greatest threat to koalas. Source: Supplied
Habitat loss has been singled out as the greatest threat to koalas. Source: Supplied

Environment Minister Sussan Ley announced the listing would change from vulnerable to endangered on Friday.

She said the update reflects the “challenges the species is facing”.

“The impact of prolonged drought, followed by the black summer bushfires, and the cumulative impacts of disease, urbanisation and habitat loss over the past twenty years have led to the advice,” Minister Ley said.

The announcement follows a record $50 million investment by the Federal Government to boost the koala’s chances of recovery.

While the funding and the listing have been welcomed by environment groups, most insist that unless state and federal governments reform legislation to stop habitat clearing, the species is doomed.

Koala rescuer shares heartbreaking photo of development impact

News of the listing comes as Gold Coast wildlife rescuer Amy Wregg shared images with Yahoo News Australia showing a koala hiding in a tree impacted by a developer's chainsaws earlier this month.

A Gold Coast koala sits in a tree denuded of foliage at a development site. Source: Supplied / Amy Wregg
A Gold Coast koala sits in a tree denuded of foliage at a development site. Source: Supplied / Amy Wregg

She said she is "emotionally exhausted" from constantly dealing with koalas displaced by developers.

"My soul has been destroyed," she added.

"I've had enough. I've rattled the beehive here so badly, but the clearing is ongoing."

Ms Wregg said she welcomed the endangered listing, but questioned whether it would impact major projects like the Coomera Connector, a state and federally-funded road project set to decimate prime koala habitat.

Greens accuse government of ignoring warnings about koala demise

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the endangered listing is “a national shame” and accused the government of having “repeatedly ignored warnings” of scientists and experts.

“It's now official, unless we take urgent action to protect koalas, they will be extinct,” she said.

Criticising the government, Ms Hanson-Young pointed to an Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) report which found they had approved the destruction of 25,000 hectares of habitat since the species was listed as vulnerable.

She said the outcome is a "disgrace on the international stage" and that there must be an "immediate halt" to land clearing.

“The Environment Minister must urgently release a recovery plan for the koala that includes a moratorium on the clearing of koala habitat,” she said.

Rescuer Amy Wregg is emotionally exhausted from rescuing koalas impacted by development. Source: WildCare / Supplied
Rescuer Amy Wregg is emotionally exhausted from rescuing koalas impacted by development. Source: WildCare / Supplied

ACF’s Basha Stasak singled out the Australia’s national environment protection laws, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, as being ineffective in “supposedly” protecting koalas.

“This is embarrassing for Australia on the world stage. The extinction of koalas does not have to happen,” she said.

The Australian Koala Foundation's Deborah Tabart said the change in status was a "token gesture", adding that new koala-specific legal protections are needed to save the species.

"This change in status is too little, too late," she said.

"The Federal Government may be offering our Koalas a nice new word, but behind all the photo opportunities and political rhetoric they continue to approve the destruction of koala habitat."

Habitat loss driving koalas towards extinction

In a joint statement conservation groups Humane Society International (HSI), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and WWF Australia welcomed the “grim but important” decision to list the koala.

They submitted evidence to support the nomination which found since 2001 Queensland koala populations had dropped by 50 per cent, with NSW suffering even higher losses at 62 per cent.

In December, WWF Australia released a report which found land clearing in Queensland was so significant it threatens to impact Commonwealth net zero carbon emission commitments.

Dr Stuart Blanch, a conservation scientist representing the charity, said koala declines over the last decade have been “shockingly fast”

“Australia must complete the transition out of deforestation and native forest logging to become a world leader in forest protection and restoration,” he said.

NSW and Queensland have lost significant numbers of koalas over the last decade, with land clearing a key driver. Source: Supplied / Wildcare
NSW and Queensland have lost significant numbers of koalas over the last decade, with land clearing a key driver. Source: Supplied / Wildcare

IFAW’s Josey Sharrad said the listing was a “double-edged sword”, and questioned what hope lesser-known species have if iconic animals like the koala are facing extinction.

“We should never have allowed things to get to the point where we are at risk of losing a national icon,” she said.

HSI’s Alexia Wellbelove called on governments to “take a stand” against habitat clearing.

“If business as usual continues, extinction is predicted for east coast koalas by 2050,” she said.

“Unless we want to say goodbye for good we can’t afford any more clearing.”

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