Koala functionally extinct.

The east coast Australian bushfires, impacting vast areas of New South Wales and Queensland, are leading to the Australian koala now being declared as “functionally extinct.”

An estimated 1,000 koalas have died in the recent fires, compounding a devastating classification, that suggests the future of the koala is under serious threat.

In the Port Macquarie region alone, an estimated 70% of the population was wiped out in recent weeks, due to the raging fires.

“We’re hoping it’s not as bad as that, but because of the intensity of the fire and the way koalas behave during fire, we’re not holding out too much hope,” Koala Hospital president Sue Ashton tells the Associated Press’ Rod McGuirk. She calls the loss “absolutely devastating.”

The fires a yet another huge blow to the plight of the famous koala.

A video of a severely injured koala, desperately trying to escape the flames went viral on social media.

The koala was rescued and evacuated to the Port Macquarie koala sanctuary. The images have been seen my millions around the world.

Functionally Extinct

‘Functionally extinct’ describes an animal population which has so few pairs that they are unlikely to produce a new generation.

It can also describe an animal which is breeding in such few numbers over time, that they are far more likely to become ill from disease.

Koala Numbers Falling

There are only 80,000 koalas left in the wild, down from tens of millions at the time of European settlement.

6,000 kolas have been lost since 2015, this map from 2015 shows the estimated numbers of koalas.

The Koala Act

Lobby Groups are urging the Australian government to enact the Koala Protection Act, which was written in 2016.

The act has so far not been passed into law and molded after the Bald Eagle Protection Act in the U.S. The act also calls for the protection of trees and an end to land clearing to stop habitat destruction.

According the the Australia Koala Foundation, The act “will focus on protecting trees, including habitats that are empty. Existing State and Federal legislation ironically focusses on the Koala itself, and the habitat is almost impossible to protect. 

The AKF now has the precise list of trees covering the entire geographic range of the Koala. With a Koala Protection Act, we could argue that if those trees particular trees are present, then the answer to your application for development is NO. That is, unless you can prove that your actions will be benign to the landscape.”

The story of Koala Destruction

Australia has a long history of destroying and then trying to protect koalas.

Between 1888 and 1927, 8 million kolas were hunted and killed for their fur, used in clothing. The mass destruction of koala populations was driven by early Europeans looking for export products. Many of the koala furs were exported to Europe and North America.

In 1912, the kola became functionally extinct in South Australia. The population is now confined to areas near the Victorian border. In Queensland the koala has been particularly impacted by mass forest clearing and mass urban sprawl, as the population booms.

How you can help?

If you find wildlife impacted by fires in NSW, please contact WIRES Rescue Line on 1300 094 737” and that more information about assisting native animals is available on the WIRES Bushfire Factsheet.

You can also donate to the GoFundMe page by the Port Macquarie wildlife hospital.