After bushfires in Australia have destroyed 80% of their habitat, koalas, iconic symbols of Australia, are “functionally extinct”, according to reports. Australia is the only place in the world where koalas are found.
Koalas are vulnerable to bushfires due to their slow movements and the flammability of eucalypt trees. To make things worse, they instinctively seek refuge in the higher branches, where it is vulnerable to intense heat and flames.
They also typically breed once a year.
Bushfires also fragment the koalas’ habitat, which restricts their movement and leads to population decline and loss of genetic diversity. Such genetic bottleneck causes low sperm count, decreased sperm motility, deformed flagella, difficulty in captive breeding, and susceptibility to disease. It also results in inbreeding, which detrimentally impacts species survival.
Recent bushfires destroyed 80% of koalas’ habitat
According to reports, despite rescuers’ intense and heroic efforts, at least 1000 koalas have been killed from the fires. In the Lake Innes Nature Reserve only, about 600 koalas died in the trees while seeking shelter.
Conservationists estimate that over 1,000 koalas have been killed from the fires and that 80 percent of their habitat has been destroyed, according to Forbes.
Even before this years’ horrible bushfires, koalas were already considered vulnerable to extinction. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) previously estimated that they could be extinct by 2050, due to forest clearing and human expansion.
Now, these cute animals are, it is hard to say that but “functionally extinct”, according to experts. Sue Ashton, the Koala Conservation Australia President has said: “I don’t know how we are going to come back from this”.
There are many videos on the Internet where good people are rescuing heavily burnt koalas. It’s really heartbreaking and hard to watch, as the animals are screaming in pain. I simply couldn’t watch them for more than a few seconds and won’t share any of them here.