Australian ecologists have called on the federal government to urgently produce a threatened species recovery plan for the koala populations.
On Tuesday, Kara Youngentob, an ecologist from the Australian National University (ANU), said that a recovery plan for the marsupials should “absolutely be a priority,” with habitat loss from forestry operations exacerbated by the “2019-20 Black Summer” bushfire crisis, reports Xinhua news agency.
Recovery plans serve “to maximise the long-term survival” of Australian wildlife and come with a three-year deadline to implement and fund.
Former Environment Minister Greg Hunt in 2015 authorized a recovery plan for koalas which is now two years overdue.
Youngentob told Nine Entertainment newspapers that only one species of tree was growing back to dominate areas affected by logging and bushfires, creating “food deserts” for koalas.
“Their populations are like little lights and they will continue to blink out across their habitat range until it’s totally dark,” she said.
“The current protections in place aren’t enough to ensure populations don’t continue to decline. There have been localised extinctions and they may continue.”
James Trezise, a policy analyst from the Australian Conservation Foundation, said that koalas were “smashed by last summer’s bushfires”.
An estimated 25,000 koalas perished in the bushfires on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia (SA), approximately half of the island’s population.
A further 10,000 died in New South Wales, one third of the state’s population.
“This is an iconic species that people hold dear and it’s invaluable to Australia’s culture and also to the tourism industry,” Trezise said.