Koalas Have Become ‘Functionally Extinct’ in Australia With Just 80,000 Left
Koala species down under are now considered “functionally extinct” as the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) says there are no more than 80,000 individuals left on the continent.
So what does functionally extinct mean exactly? The Conversation reports it means that koala populations have declined so far that the species no longer plays a significant role in its ecosystem — and once a population falls below a critical point, it can no longer produce the next generation, ultimately leading to the species’ extinction.
Functional extinction also means that koalas are can no longer successfully reproduce in the wild to replace the population. Even if they are still breeding, pairs may be inbreeding which can further threaten future viability.
Native only to the eastern side of the continent, an adult koala can eat as much as 1 kilogram of Eucalyptus leaves each night, according to AKF. Eucalyptus is normally poisonous to most species, but koalas have evolved a special bacteria that allow them to break down toxic compounds. Because they only absorb around 25 percent of fiber eaten, important nutrients and other organic material to the forest floor.
Perhaps more at-heart is the emblematic role koalas have on Australian culture.
“The koala is one of Australia’s most recognizable symbols, but its survival hangs in the balance,” said the San Diego Zoo. “Formerly thought to be common and widespread, koalas are now vulnerable to extinction across much of its northern range.”
In the not so distant past, koalas were killed for their coats — between 1919 and 1924 eight million koalas were killed. Today, koalas are threatened by domestic dogs and disease, along with increasing encroachment due to human development, logging and wood harvesting, and droughts and extreme weather associated with climate change.
Though koalas are currently protected by law, almost 80 percent of remaining habitat occurs on privately owned land with very little protection offered under the legislation.
This is why the AKF is calling for the need for a Koala Protection Act (KPA).
“I know the Australian public are concerned for the safety of Koalas and are tired of seeing dead Koalas on our roads. It is time for the Government to respect the Koala and protect its habitat,” said Tabart.
The Australian government was required to establish a National Recovery Plan in 2012 but has neglected to do so in the last six years. Framework for KPA is based on the Bald Eagle Act in the U.S., which incorporates both Federal Endangered Species Act and environmental protection policies in place.
AKF notes that the American act has been so successful because of political motive to ensure the nation’s icon did not go extinct. Now it’s time for Australia’s government to wake up and do the same.
Source: Eco Watch