Endangered listing for koalas a double-edged sword

Sydney, 11 February, 2022 — The significant and immediate threats facing koalas have been recognised by Australia’s environment minister who has uplisted the status of the iconic animal from Vulnerable to Endangered.

The decision follows a joint nomination by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International (HSI) and WWF-Australia in April 2020 to Australia’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

Koalas in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory will now be classified as Endangered under national legislation and will gain elevated protections. The decision also recognises that the koala is one step further along the pathway to extinction.

“Koalas are an international and national icon, but they were living on a knife edge before the Black Summer bushfires with numbers in severe decline due to land-clearing, drought, disease, car strikes and dog attacks. The bushfires were the final straw, hitting at the heart of already struggling koala populations and critical habitat,” IFAW Oceania Regional Director Rebecca Keeble said.

“This decision is a double-edged sword. We should never have allowed things to get to the point where we are at risk of losing a national icon. It is a dark day for our nation. If we can’t protect an iconic species endemic to Australia, what chance do lesser known but no less important species have?

“This must be a wake-up call to Australia and the government to move much faster to protect critical habitat from development and land-clearing and seriously address the impacts of climate change.”

The nomination was submitted on the basis of two scientific reports which revealed Queensland’s koala population crashed by at least 50% since 2001 and up to 62% of the NSW koala population has been lost over the same period.

IFAW looks forward to seeing the implementation of the long overdue national recovery plan for koalas. We hope it will include strong actions and the funding needed to fully address the key threats driving the species to extinction, the number one threat being habitat loss.

IFAW also welcomed the federal government’s recent $50AUD million pledge for koala recovery and habitat restoration.

“These actions are vital to ensure the survival of the species into the future, but without addressing the root cause of their decline, which is habitat loss and climate change, we are just plugging holes in a sinking ship. We must do everything possible to implement the plan and save this iconic species,” Ms Keeble said.