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.

Two koalas
The koala (Phascolarctos) is an arboreal herbivorous marsupial native to Australia. Along with kangaroos, they are iconic symbols of the continent. The koala has a body length of 60-85 cm (24-33 in) and weighs 4-15 kg (9-33 lb). They typically inhabit open eucalypt woodlands, and the leaves of these trees make up most of their diet. Because this eucalypt diet has limited nutritional and caloric content, koalas are largely sedentary (a sedentary lifestyle is a type of lifestyle involving little or no physical activity), they move really slow and sleep up to 20 hours a day.

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.

Sources

Koalas ‘Functionally Extinct’ After Australia Bushfires Destroy 80% Of Their Habitat on the Forbes
Koala on Wikipedia
2019-20 Australian bushfire season on Wikipedia
“Brushfires ravage Australia’s fragile koala colonies; nearly 1,000 animals may have been incinerated” on sfgate.com

M. Özgür Nevres

I am a software developer, a former road racing cyclist, and a science enthusiast. Also an animal lover! I write about the planet Earth and science on this website, ourplnt.com. You can check out my social media profiles by clicking on their icons.

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