Koalas join the ranks of threatened species
The koala, Australia’s national icon, has been added to the national list of threatened species, which prompted Environment Minister, Tony Burke, in making an announcement on Monday.
The listing will give Australia’s much-loved koalas protection under national environmental law.
It is said koala numbers have dropped by as much as 40 percent in Queensland in the last 20 years. The causes are largely due to urban expansion and climate change.
“My decision to list the koala under national environment law follows a rigorous scientific assessment by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee which gathered information from a variety of experts over the past three years,” Burke said.
“Koala populations are under serious threat from habitat loss and urban expansion, as well as vehicle strikes, dog attacks and disease.”
The decline however is not evenly perceived across the whole of Australia. Vulnerable populations are observed specifically in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), as opposed to koala communities in Victoria and South Australia where they “are eating themselves out of suitable foraging habitat” and needs proper management.
Burke explains that rather than listing the koala as a nationally threatened species across its full range, only the koala populations of Queensland, New South Wales and ACT will be recorded.
However, the Australian Greens have expressed their concerns to the Guardian, saying that “it would have made more sense to give the koala a national listing, instead of waiting for koala populations in South Australia and Victoria to fall into decline without protection, like those in Queensland and New South Wales.”
The Australian Koala Foundation shares the same opinion in as far as they do not believe that full protection and complete realization of the danger these animals are facing are in place, while criticizing the government of working with inaccurate information, such as the number of koalas in the wild to be at 200,000.
“At the moment we’re still of the opinion that there’s not that many koalas, less than 100,000. Victoria still needs to be protected,” said AKF CEO Deborah Tabart in ABC Science. “I’m delighted with this because it is going to slow things down, but it’s not going to save our koalas.”
On the other hand, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is skeptical about the listing, saying that it would only add more ‘green tape’ to the situation.
Others see the sensibility in the course of the operation.
“The problems facing koalas are very different across its geographic range,” Professor Chris Johnson at the University of Tasmania told ABC Science. ”In the south, some populations are overabundant and are damaging their habitat. In the north, koala populations are in decline for a multitude of reasons.”
“We will need to think about the differing needs of northern and southern koalas almost as if they are two different species. Therefore it makes sense that they be given separate listings, and it is a reasonable assessment of the evidence to class the northern population as ‘vulnerable’.”