Australia Lost 30 Percent of Koala Population in 3 Years Amid Wildfires, Drought: Report

Australia lost 30 percent of its koala population in a three-year period starting in 2018, as conservationists call for the species to be granted endangered status.

The koala population in 2021 is estimated to be between 32,065 and 57,920, a notable drop from 2018, when the population was believed to be between 45,745 and 82,170, according to a report released Monday by the Australian Koala Foundation.

The loss is partially attributed to the bushfires of 2019 and 2020, according to the report.

The fires devastated the koala population, impacting more than 60,000 of the marsupials. They suffered from widespread death, injury, loss of habitat, reduced food supply and increased predation risk due to the fires, according to a 2020 report by the World Wildlife Fund.

Koalas' slow-moving nature and diet consisting of oil-filled eucalyptus trees left them particularly vulnerable to the blazes. Many of them were lost in the trees burned in the fire, and they were unable to move fast enough to escape.

However, the fires aren't the only cause of the decline. Drought, heat waves and a lack of water for koalas to drink has also contributed. Deborah Tabart, the chair of the AKF, described some areas in Australia as looking "like the moon—with dead and dying trees everywhere" in the report.

The report also points to land clearing in koala habitats as a major threat.

"Over the past few years, we have seen huge land clearance particularly across NSW and South East Queensland, for farming, housing development and mining," the report said. "We know that offsets don't work and we also know that displaced koalas die."

Pete the Koala
Australia has lost 30 percent of its koala population in three years, a new report estimates. Here, a koala named Pete in Port Macquarie, Australia, in November of 2019. Nathan Edwards/Getty Images

In New South Wales, a southeastern state that is home to Sydney, the population loss was particularly stark, with a 41 percent decline.

Some regions in Australia are believed to have as few as five to 10 koalas left, and only a single electorate has more than 5,000, the report said.

There were no upward trends anywhere in Australia, according to the report. The koala is fully extinct in 47 electorates.

The report called for "urgent action" by the government to stop land clearing in koala habitats and a Koala Protection Act.

In June, the Australian government called for public comment on a national recovery plan for parts of the county and whether the koala's threatened species protection status should be raised from "vulnerable" to "endangered," Reuters reported. Comments on the plan are due Friday.

The AKF "strongly suggests" that their conservation status should be upgraded to "critically endangered" in parts of Australia.

"Each and every federal politician in these electorates should now be on notice to protect not only the koalas in their electorate but the habitat that remains," Tobart said in the report.

The grim report did outline one piece of good news for koalas—there are still many areas in Australia with a livable habitat for them.