Koalas face extinction by 2050 if 'urgent action' isn't taken

Koalas could become extinct in NSW before 2050 unless urgent action is taken, warns the report from a year-long parliamentary inquiry.

Without “urgent government intervention” to protect native forests, the future of koalas in the wild cannot be guaranteed, the report found.

Bushfires that devastated much of the state in 2019 - 2020 have severely affected koala habitat, impacting an estimated 24 per cent of it on public land.

Split screen. Left - a volunteer at Koala Hospital Port Macquarie tends to a burnt koala on an operating table. Right - Close up of a koala with a burnt nose.
Koalas are treated at Koala Hospital Port Macquarie after devastating bushfires this year. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

The report stated that a previous estimate of 36,000 koalas living in the wild across the state is “outdated and unreliable”.

Committee chair Cate Faehrmann said the inquiry has shown that there needs to be an increase in protecting koala habitat from logging, mining, land clearing and urban development.

“The report found that habitat loss and fragmentation was the biggest threat to koalas, yet at every turn we were handed evidence that showed our current laws are inadequate and facilitating the clearing of core koala habitat,” she said in a statement.

“The strategies and policies currently in place to protect the koala aren’t working, like the NSW Koala Strategy which fails in ensuring enough koala habitat is protected for the different koala populations across the state.”

The committee included members of Labor, Liberal, Greens and Animal Justice political parties and Ms Faehrmann said she was pleased the group had largely reached consensus with the report.

Koala rescuer not surprised by report

NSW arborist Kai Wild rescued over 100 koalas on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island after the bushfires.

Now back in his home state, Mr Wild told Yahoo News Australia that a link between deforestation and a decrease in koala numbers is nothing new.

He said successive governments have known that land clearing and habitat fragmentation could cause the extinction of native animal species.

Arborist Kai Wild parasails down a tree holding a rescued burnt koala in a forest on Kangaroo Island.
Arborist Kai Wild rescues a burnt koala from on Kangaroo Island after fierce bushfires tore through the area. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

“The reason we have environment ministers and planning ministers to represent us is to ensure that we don’t allow our iconic wildlife to become extinct due to clearing for the sake of development and logging,” he said.

“Hopefully it’s a wakeup call to the public that this is the situation facing koalas.”

After returning to NSW, Mr Wild said he found it “extremely frustrating and disappointing” that the NSW government allowed the clearing of unburnt forests.

He said is “devastated” that the fate of koalas in NSW is in the hands of the current government, saying their actions to date have fallen well short of their environmental messaging.

Arborist Kai Wild holds a rescued koala's hand as it lies on an operating table.
Arborist Kai Wild holds a rescued koala's hand before it is assessed by a vet on Kangaroo Island. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

Having spent months on end working with burnt and injured koalas, he found the animals to be incredibly resilient creatures, but they will not survive the ongoing destruction of their habitat.

“They’re surprising because they appear so soft and calm, but they will put up the best fight when they need to which can just be really unexpected,” he said.

“They’re just very humble creatures, they really don’t need that much to survive and exist in their natural habitat.

“The least we can do is allow them to exist without the threat of extinction.”

‘We will do everything’: Minister responds to report

Environment Minister Matt Kean acknowledged the impact bushfires had on the NSW koala population, and said he would review the inquiry’s report.

“Koalas are an iconic Australian animal recognised the world over, and a national treasure which we will do everything we can to protect for future generations,” he said in a statement.

“That’s why the NSW Government has committed to our $44 million koala strategy, the largest financial commitment to protecting koalas in the state’s history.

“That said, I am looking forward to reviewing the report, and seeing what further can be done to protect this Australian icon.”

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