Australian - Australia has lost one-third of its koalas in the past three years
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Australia has lost one-third of its koalas in the past three years


Story by asiaone.com

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Published on September 21, 2021 11:43 AM
 
The decline in New South Wales likely accelerated after huge swathes of forest were devastated by bushfires in late 2019 and early 2020, but some of those areas already had no koalas. The koala or, inaccurately, koala bear (Phascolarctos cinereus), is an arboreal herbivorous marsupial native to Australia. It is the only extant representative of the family Phascolarctidae and its closest living relatives are the wombats, which are members of the family Vombatidae.
 
MELBOURNE - Australia has lost about 30 per cent of its koalas over the past three years, hit by drought, bushfires and developers cutting down trees, the Australian Koala Foundation said, urging the government to do more to protect the creature's habitat.

The independent non-profit group estimated the koala population has dropped to less than 58,000 this year from more than 80,000 in 2018, with the worst decline in the state of New South Wales, where the numbers have dropped by 41 per cent.

"The declines are quite dramatic," said Australian Koala Foundation Chair Deborah Tabart on Tuesday (Sept 21).

There were no upward trends anywhere in Australia. Only one area in the study was estimated to have more than 5,000 koalas, and some regions were estimated to have as few as five or ten. Tabart said the country needs a koala protection law...

Koala

The koala or, inaccurately, koala bear , is an arboreal herbivorous marsupial native to Australia. It is the only extant representative of the family Phascolarctidae and its closest living relatives are the wombats, which are members of the family Vombatidae. The koala is found in coastal areas of the mainland's eastern and southern regions, inhabiting Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. It is easily recognisable by its stout, tailless body and large head with round, fluffy ears and large, spoon-shaped nose.

The koala has a body length of 60–85 cm and weighs 4–15 kg . Fur colour ranges from silver grey to chocolate brown. Koalas from the northern populations are typically smaller and lighter in colour than their counterparts further south. These populations possibly are separate subspecies, but this is disputed.

Koalas typically inhabit open eucalypt woodlands, and the leaves of these trees make up most of their diet. Because this eucalypt diet has limited nutritional and caloric content, koalas are largely sedentary and sleep up to 20 hours a day. They are asocial animals, and bonding exists only between mothers and dependent offspring. Adult males communicate with loud bellows that intimidate rivals and attract mates.

Males mark their presence with secretions from scent glands located on their chests. Being marsupials, koalas give birth to underdeveloped young that crawl into their mothers' pouches, where they stay for the first six to seven months of their lives. These young koalas, known as joeys, are fully weaned around a year old. Koalas have few natural predators and parasites, but are threatened by various pathogens, such as Chlamydiaceae bacteria and the koala retrovirus.

Koalas were hunted by Indigenous Australians and depicted in myths and cave art for millennia. The first recorded encounter between a European and a koala was in 1798, and an image of the animal was published in 1810 by naturalist George Perry. Botanist Robert Brown wrote the first detailed scientific description of the koala in 1814, although his work remained unpublished for 180 years. Popular artist John Gould illustrated and described the koala, introducing the species to the general British public.

Further details about the animal's biology were revealed in the 19th century by several English scientists. Because of its distinctive appearance, the koala is recognised worldwide as a symbol of Australia. Koalas are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The animal was hunted heavily in the early 20th century for its fur, and large-scale cullings in Queensland resulted in a public outcry that initiated a movement to protect the species. Sanctuaries were established, and translocation efforts moved to new regions koalas whose habitat had become fragmented or reduced. Among the many threats to their existence are habitat destruction caused by agriculture, urbanisation, droughts and associated bushfires, some related to climate change.

Distribution and habitat

The koala's geographic range covers roughly 1,000,000 km2 , and 30 ecoregions. It extends throughout eastern and southeastern Australia, encompassing northeastern, central and southeastern Queensland, eastern New South Wales, Victoria, and southeastern South Australia. The koala was introduced near Adelaide and on several islands, including Kangaroo Island and French Island. The population on Magnetic Island represents the northern limit of its range.

Fossil evidence shows that the koala's range stretched as far west as southwestern Western Australia during the late Pleistocene. They were likely driven to extinction in these areas by environmental changes and hunting by Indigenous Australians. In South Australia, koalas were extirpated by the early 20th century and subsequently reintroduced. Koalas can be found in habitats ranging from relatively open forests to woodlands, and in climates ranging from tropical to cool temperate. In semi-arid climates, they prefer riparian habitats, where nearby streams and creeks provide refuge during times of drought and extreme heat.