Koala numbers are rapidly declining as habitat continues to be lost across the country, according to new ‘alarming figures’.
Populations of the iconic marsupials have plummeted by an estimated 30 per cent across NSW, ACT and Queensland, according to data collated by the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF).
NSW has been the most severely hit, with numbers declining by a staggering 41 per cent, with some regions harbouring tiny remnant populations of five to 10 animals, the charity reported.
They believe the nation's koala population stands between 32,065 - 57,920 individuals, down from 45,745 - 82,170 in 2018.
Land clearing, bushfires, drought and mining projects are driving the marsupials towards extinction, AKF chair Deborah Tabart argues.
“It is dire," she said.
"When our scientist, Dave Mitchell, first came back to me with this population estimate a few months ago, I actually asked him to go back to the drawing board, because even I didn't really feel comfortable with it.
“But I'm confident that he’s got it right.”
Despite having relatively stable populations, Victorian and South Australian koalas remain a concern, with animals in these two states lacking genetic diversity due to a bottleneck caused by a near extinction last century.
A once lost genetically diverse cluster known as Strzelecki koalas survive in South Gippsland, but unlike koalas in NSW, ACT and Queensland, they lack specific federal protection under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC).
How the koala estimate was calculated
The numbers released today are the latest in a string of estimates released by AKF, using research by landscape ecologist Dave Mitchell.
Using mapping, scientific research, published papers, state government population estimates and media reports, he has produced reports on koala populations every two or three years for AKF, since 2006.
A key component of the population estimate is their Koala Habitat Atlas which ranks habitat across Australia, in order to approximate how many koalas regions are capable of sustaining.
Populations estimates are then designated for each federal electorate, which Mr Mitchell, a PhD candidate at RMIT, said are often geographically distinct.
“Every two or three years, we look at all the information again and see if we can detect any trends and we revised the numbers,” Mr Mitchell told Yahoo News Australia.
More on the plight of koalas
'Serious trouble': Revised laws needed to save koalas from extinction
Ms Tabart said she stands by her statement in May 2019 that koalas are functionally extinct, despite conservationists including WWF-Australia responding by saying while this may apply to some regions, many viable populations remain.
"If you're a koala, and you live in a landscape right now, chances are you'll have a baby," she said.
"And that baby might even have a baby, but there'll be no fourth one."
The state’s environment minister Matt Kean subsequently set a goal of doubling NSW koala populations by 2050, and committed to removing predators and expanding national parks.
With koala habitat in NSW and Queensland continuing to be destroyed for mining projects and development despite their EPBC protection, Ms Tabart repeated a call she has made since 1995, arguing a specific Koala Protection Act must be enacted to ensure the species’ long term survival.
Ms Tabart said for decades state and federal governments have shown a "lack of vision" when it comes to protecting habitat for not just koalas, but the millions of other species that live alongside them.
“I don’t believe existing laws are adequate and if you can't save (the koala), you're not going to save anything,” she said.
“The Australian people and the global community love koalas, and they're in serious trouble.”
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