Are Koalas Now 'Functionally Extinct'?
Thu, April 22, 2021

Are Koalas Now 'Functionally Extinct'?

Koalas can be found only on the southeast and eastern sides of Australia, along the coastlines of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria. / Photo by: Yatra via Shutterstock

 

Summer hasn’t begun in Australia but the country is already experiencing deadly bushfires. Fears that conditions will only get worse are growing as hundreds of thousands of hectares across several states are burning. The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, reported that New South Wales has been the most severely hit. More than 600 homes were destroyed and more than 1.65 million hectares were razed. 

Other states were also affected like Queensland, where 20 homes were lost and about 180,000 hectares were burned. In Victoria, 100km/h winds ignited more than 60 blazes during an unprecedented heatwave. Code red, which is the most extreme warning, was issued for the north-western and central regions. Lisa Neville, the state’s emergency services minister, compared it to “the worst conditions you’d see in February or March.” 

While it is common for Australia to experience bushfires, scientists stated that the fire conditions this year are much worse than before, devastating the lives of thousands and wreaking millions of dollars’ worth of damage. The worsening fire conditions in over seven districts in South Australia have resulted in more than 100 schools closing down. "Any fires that start will be extremely difficult to control and homes are not built to withstand fires in these conditions,” Adam Morgan, a meteorologist with the South Australia Bureau of Meteorology, said.

Unfortunately, people’s homes and livelihoods are not the only ones affected but also wildlife, particularly koalas. Recently, an Australian woman was caught on camera saving the life of a young koala who is heading towards a group of burning trees. In the footage, the woman wrapped the marsupial with a shirt and poured water all over its body to cool its burns. The koala was immediately rushed to the hospital and has since died. According to reports, the koala’s feet were completely burnt. He also had burns to his chest and stomach.

The raging fires have extremely impacted koalas; a recent report revealed that koalas are now “functionally extinct.”

Over 1,000 Koalas May Have Died Due to Australia’s Record-Breaking Bushfires

Koalas can be found only on the southeast and eastern sides of Australia, along the coastlines of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria. While these adorable creatures are protected by law, their numbers are rapidly declining. Reports show that 80% of koala habitat has been lost to human homes, drought, and forest fires.

The recent raging fires in Australia have killed over 1,000 koalas. It’s a tragedy for a species that has long been struggling to survive against the impacts of climate change, deforestation, and disease. With their declining number and the worsening bushfires, the Australian Koala Foundation declared that koalas are now “functionally extinct.” According to The Conversation, an online site that offers informed commentary and debate on the issues affecting our world, the term “functionally extinct” refers to species whose population has declined to the point where it can no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem. Christine Adams-Hosking, a biologist from the University of Queensland, stated that while koalas are not in danger of total extinction throughout the country, people are still going to see local population extinctions.

 

The recent raging fires in Australia have killed over 1,000 koalas. / Photo by: KARL HOFMAN via Shutterstock

 

The World Wide Fund for Nature’s 2019 Koala Conservation Plan suggested that habitat conditions in Australia are now inadequate to support koala populations, considering the fact that millions of these species roamed the great forests and bushland of the country about 230 years ago. Adams-Hosking stated that there’s a high possibility that a species can become extinct once their population declines to the point that they can’t reproduce anymore. 

As of now, the number of remaining koalas in Australia is hard to predict since there are still ongoing fires. "We need to wait until the fires are finished, and then we can map the burnt areas with a scientific approach, and speak to local experts who know how many koalas were in those areas. As trees grow back, we'll have to look at how many koalas come back,” Adams-Hosking said. 

Reports About Koalas Being “Functionally Extinct” Are Not Accurate

Following the Australian Koala Foundation’s report revealing that koalas are now ‘functionally extinct’, several experts came forward to disagree. Adams-Hosking stated that the functional extinction tag on koalas “had likely been applied with a little too much haste.” As of now, it’s difficult to label them since quantifying how many koalas left in the wild is a complex game. 

"To determine whether each population of koalas scattered across eastern Australia is functionally extinct would require a gargantuan effort," she said. 

According to CNet, the world's leader in tech product reviews, news, prices, videos, forums, how-tos and more, Rebecca Johnson, a koala geneticist at the Australian Museum, stated that she doesn’t believe that koalas are functionally extinct, yet. "That said, the fires are likely to have had a huge impact on what we know are some extremely valuable populations who are important for the long term survival of the species,” she added. 

Nonetheless, the worsening fires in Australia and the declining number of koalas in the wild are a reminder that our ecosystems and biodiversity are greatly affected by climate change caused by humans. May this be our calling to take our responsibility to save the planet seriously before it’s too late.