Koalas may be one of the most recognized ambassadors of Australia, behind only the kangaroo, but this does not grant them immunity to what is happening in their country. The furry little marsupials face an attack on a scale they have never encountered. It isn’t a direct attack, however, but a side effect of human advancement. The Koala habitat is vanishing at an unfathomable rate, and if it continues, the Koala may disappear with it.
What is a Koala?
Koalas have been depicted in movies and other types of media for decades as a representation of Australian wildlife.
The koala stands about two and a half feet tall on average and weighs 30 lbs. They are covered in thick fur of brown or grey. Due to the hostile nature of the Australian outback and the stature of a koala, they have many natural predators. The predatory nature of the Australian bush has a minimal impact on the population because of the koala’s chosen habitat.
These cute marsupials are infatuated with eucalyptus plants; in fact, they are among, if not the favored food for these animals. However, they do not eat the eucalyptus plant for its high nutritional value but rather the euphoric high it produces for the animal.
The low nutrient value leaves the koala with little time to move and stay awake, so these ingenious animals build their habitats specifically around the eucalyptus tree (sometimes other trees, but eucalyptus is preferred.)
The koala can usually be found napping for up to twenty-two hours of the day, high in trees away from predators. As you can see, habitat selection is vital to the survival of the species.
What is Happening to the Koala’s Habitat?
There are no other words to describe what is happening to the koala habitat besides devastating.
Since the European colonization of Australia, the koala has lost eighty percent of its habitat. This outrageous number only increases the frustration of fans of this animal, as the other twenty percent lies on private land where conservationists can provide minimal help if the land owner so chooses.
The reason the habitat is so essential for the koala is because of how they choose where to live. As we discussed, Koalas do not like to move around often; therefore, they establish a home base next to their food source.
If the area does not have a preferred tree species, such as the eucalyptus, the picky nature of the koala will keep them moving until they find a place they can call home.
Now if you take that information and realize how much deforestation is happening for human use and expansion, it does not give the koala a whole lot of places to live. When they do not have locations in nature to live, they resort to suburban areas.
Koalas are not fit for suburban life. Studies have found that when a koala is put into a stressful environment, their reproductive rate declines, and they are more susceptible to disease. They are not very good at defending themselves, so they can also add urban dogs to the list of predators ready to eat them.
As the Australian saying goes, “Without habitat, without koalas.”
How Did the Brushfires Impact Koalas?
The Australian outback is no stranger to brushfires, but the havoc that was the 2019/2020 brushfires are not soon to be forgotten.
While it's hard to pinpoint an exact number, an estimated 60,000 koalas died in the 60 million-acre brushfire. Fifteen percent of the New South Wales koalas were wiped off the map. It also destroyed ten percent of the koala's habitat, which was already in a sad state.
Much like when a koala is in a stressful environment such as urban areas, the brushfire left them stressed and disoriented, making them more likely to catch disease. When you are looking for a new home, this is not a good thing.
Alas, there is some good news to be had. The black summer, as it is now being called, did not wipe out all the koala habitats. Koala conservationists found that many koalas who survived the brush fire had found new homes within a year of the blaze being contained.
Maybe the koala's natural predators took pity on them.
What Habitat Conservation is Taking Place?
It may seem like the koala is all on its own, but people are trying to help maintain what is left of the natural koala habitat. If they don't, the koala will move from the vulnerable list to the extinct list very quickly.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) is supposed to protect wildlife habitats, but it needs to be overhauled desperately. Many people worldwide are coming together to give a voice to the bill.
The Australia Koala Foundation has mapped out koala habitats and has created sanctuaries where these animals can rebuild their numbers. They are bringing as many outside voices as possible to help keep these animals from going extinct.
Reducing pollution is another aspect koala fans are working on and something the everyday citizen can do from the comfort of their home. Every little effort counts.
The koala is on the vulnerable list because of us. If we continue to destroy their homes, they face extinction; as human beings, we should not be putting pollution, deforestation, and urban expansion ahead of the survival of an entire species; many across the globe understand this and are doing their part to help the loveable, cuddly koala survive.