One of Australia’s leading conservation groups has called on the federal government to change koalas’ status from “vulnerable” to “endangered” following research into the extent of their habitat’s destruction.
Since Australia’s iconic marsupial was listed as vulnerable a decade ago, some 25,000 hectares of their habitat across the nation has been cleared, reports Xinhua news agency.
The report released by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) on Tuesday revealed that 63 planned government projects would result in another 25,000 hectares of koala habitat being destroyed.
Koalas are particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction as they subsist wholly on the leaves of the eucalyptus tree.
It is estimated that their populations have declined by 30 per cent in the last three years alone.
Media and Investigations manager at the ACF Freya Cole told Xinhua on Tuesday that given the rate of destruction of koala habitats, if now assessed, their status would “almost certainly” be upgraded.
The Threatened Species Scientific Committee, the body that advises the Australian government on conservation listings, has already issued advice. But the advice has not been acted on.
“We’re expecting that (upgrade to ‘endangered’) anytime soon,” said Cole. “And I think it’s just really important to highlight that this government is doing everything it can to hide the fact that koalas are in a really bad position.”
Late last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a A$50 million package for koala conservation.
However, the record investment has been widely criticized as throwing money at the problem rather than establishing a more robust conservation framework.
The ACF’s nature campaign manager Basha Stasak said the funding, while welcomed, was in stark contrast to the increasing amount of land approved for clearing for mining operations, transport and residential housing each year.
“The first thing federal and state governments should do for koalas is immediately stop approving the destruction of their homes for commercial projects,” said Stasak.
The report also suggested that the extent of land clearing could actually be much larger because agriculture and logging were often left out of national environmental law.
Stasak said a re-assessment of the conservation status of koalas was “long overdue”.
“Koalas are in strife. An assessment has been conducted to determine whether the species’ conservation status should be changed from vulnerable to endangered, but that assessment has not been released,” she said.
“If we want our grandchildren to see koalas in the wild, governments must stop approving the bulldozing of their homes for mines and new housing estates,” she said.