Koala No Bye, Bye!

Credit: Rene Rivers

Scientists and wildlife experts are calling for koalas to be listed as an endangered species amidst fears that climate change is killing off the dwindling population.

Koalas are notoriously poor at adapting. Despite being native to sunny Australia, they don’t fare well in times of droughts and heat waves. Throw in the fact that the population has been ravaged by disease and threatened by habitat loss and it’s not a stretch to see that koalas need protection.

According to Kathy Marks of the Independent, however, koalas could be slowly slipping into extinction. The effects of climate change are placing more environmental pressures on koala numbers.

“This species is supposed to be common,” said Christine Hosking, a nature conservationist at the University of Queensland, when speaking to the Independent. “Yet it’s slipping into extinction under our noses.”

The situation is so dire that several experts, including Hosking, recently presented evidence to a parliamentary committee that was set up to investigate koala health and status.

Koalas are typically difficult to view in the wild, as they hide in the high canopies of tall trees and camouflage with the branches on which they perch.

But if the animal that prides itself on hiding seems to be disappearing, its population is probably doing well, you might think.

Wrong.

According to the Independent, Clive McAlpine, a landscape ecologist at the University of Queensland, believes that there are between just 50,000 and 100,000 koalas left in the wild.

Urban development, agriculture and industry have eaten away at the koalas’ traditional habitat – gum trees. Furthermore, diseases such as chlamydia, cancer and leukemia also affect the koala population.

In fact, Hosking has data that shows that temperatures above 37 degrees Celsius, or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, are intolerable for koalas – a strange twist since koalas are native to a country that is known for hot, steamy, summertime sunshine.

One problem koala-lovers and conservation experts face is that koalas are still quite numerous in certain regions of Eastern Australia, which provides a false sense of security for those against listing the animal as endangered. But experts say that the population in these areas are genetically limited and devastated by disease.

“There’s a lot of evidence to support the case for action,” McAlpine told the Independent. “We can’t afford to wait until the population is down to 10,000 before we do something, because by then it will be too late.”

– Kane Carpenter

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