'Functionally extinct' Koalas dealt a possible death blow after Australian bushfires destroy 80% of their habitat

'Functionally extinct' Koalas dealt a possible death blow after Australian bushfires destroy 80% of their habitat
(Source : Getty Images)

Koalas, one of the most easily recognized examples of Australian wildlife, may just go extinct within our lifetimes. According to Forbes, experts believe that the Australian bushfires may have caused such massive losses to the koala population and habitat that the marsupials may not recover their numbers.

Koalas were already declared "functionally extinct" by experts in May and now the hope of their recovery has dwindled even more.

The recent bushfires are only the latest blow to strike the koala. Prolonged drought and deforestation are believed to have been major factors in the koalas reaching such a dire state.

Deborah Tabart, head of the Australian Koala Foundation, estimates that over 1,000 koalas have been killed and at least 80 percent of their habitat has been devastated as a result of the bushfires.

Being declared functionally extinct happens when a species' population becomes so small that they can no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem, rendering their long-term survival no longer viable.

Though some individuals may continue to produce, the limited number of individual koalas makes the species survival unlikely and the remaining population will now be highly susceptible to disease.

A koala at Taronga Zoo on October 10, 2019, in Sydney, Australia. The Wildlife Retreat at Taronga is an overnight eco-retreat within Taronga Zoo on the edge of Sydney Harbour (Getty Images)

An adult koala needs to eat up to two pounds of eucalyptus leaves each day in order to absorb the nutrients it requires for a healthy diet. While eucalyptus plants do grow back after a fire, the process takes months, leaving the koalas with no suitable food source in the meantime.

Now, deforestation and bushfires have destroyed large swathes of eucalyptus trees, exposing the animals that depend on them to the risk of starvation. The Australian government is being urged by citizens to enact the Koala Protection Act, which was written in 2016 but never passed into law.


Based on the Bald Eagle Protection Act in the US, the Koala Protection Act would provide protection to habitats and trees vital to maintaining koala populations along with protecting koalas from hunting.

Viral videos of Australians rescuing koalas have recently helped increase donations to support hospitalization and help for koalas burned during the fires.

The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has created a GoFundMe page seeking donations to aid the treatment of injured koalas.

The hospital is also attempting to install drinking stations for koalas in areas affected by the fires. The funds will also be used to set up a "Koala Ark", a refuge for burned koalas to recover in a healthy, safe environment.


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