Save the koala

Australia is now on the brink of losing both the Great Barrier Reef and the koala, an utterly shameful example of our stewardship of this continent and its creatures since European settlement. Australia has the worst record of mammalian extinction on earth, and the rate of habitat loss and extinction is accelerating rather than slowing.

The rapid decline in the koala population has been caused by land clearing and exacerbated by climate change and disease. It’s well known that koalas cannot live without specific eucalyptus trees, but less well known is that when temperatures exceed 35 degrees, they can no longer cool themselves by embracing their trees. In this heat, they flee to the ground, where they are hit by cars, taken by dogs or expire as they begin to metabolise their own muscle for lack of fluids.

The survivors now cling to the cooler coast on fertile land coveted by farmers, tree-changers and developers. Many of the larger population are descended from captive breeding programs. While healthier in number, these populations are poor in the genetic diversity needed to ensure the species’ survival.

Unless the few remaining koalas and their fragile remnant habitats are “wrapped in cotton wool”, they will soon become regionally extinct in New South Wales and Queensland and could be lost entirely.