The Queensland government has acknowledged evidence of the decline in koala population numbers by listing the species as vulnerable throughout the state.
Koalas may be, in the words of a former Australian tourism minister, “flea-ridden, piddling, stinking, scratching, rotten little things,” but they are also absolutely loved, both at home and abroad. Holding one is considered a major draw for tourists and world leaders alike.
Australians have put a lot of effort into fundraising to save the koalas. Even the author of this article used to dress up in a ragged koala onesie to raise money for the animal's protection, but his efforts were only marginally successful given the multiplicity of threats the charismatic creatures face. Large areas of koala habitat continue to be cleared either for logging, housing developments or to get at coal beneath.
Meanwhile, climate change is leading to more intense heat waves and bushfires, both of which can take a heavy toll. Cars, dogs and even horses can be a menace when the arboreal creatures have to travel on the ground. That's in addition to the spread of chlamydia, which in koalas causes blindness, infertility and soggy bottom disease.
The koala's famous fussiness when it comes to food, while often exaggerated, also doesn't help.
It is estimated that before European colonization there were ten million koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) in eastern Australia. In one year, 800,000 were killed for fur. Today, less than 50,000 survive.
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Ironically, in some limited areas the problem is too many, rather than too few, koalas. In places like Cape Otway, populations are booming with dingos no longer keeping numbers under control, leading koalas to eat out the available trees and experience population crashes. Attempts at relocation have had mixed success.
Nationally, there are enough healthy pockets that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the koala as of “least concern.” Since 2004, however, koalas in South East Queensland have been listed as vulnerable, like their counterparts in New South Wales.
In 2013, a statement was provided that across Queensland the koala “met the eligibility threshold for a national threatened species listing as 'vulnerable' and required conservation management,” but this advice was not acted on by the state government of the day, which was not known for its environmental sympathies.
However, since a change of government earlier this year, attitudes are different. “This means that now the State Government will work very closely with the councils, with local government agencies to make sure that we are mapping, and doing everything we can to protect the koala," said Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, announcing the extension of vulnerable status to the whole state. "The reclassification will mean that more consideration will need to be given to koala habitats across Queensland, particularly in regard to potential impacts from development and resource activities."
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