The Australian government has tripled funding for koala conservation efforts in a bid to save the iconic species from extinction, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Environment Minister Sussan Ley said in a joint announcement on Saturday.
According to the announcement, the government will spend an additional A$50 million ($34 million) over the next four years on koala recovery programs, reports Xinhua news agency.
It takes the total federal government investment in koala conservation since 2019 to A$74 million.
Koalas, one of Australia’s most iconic native species, have come under significant threat from habitat loss as a result of bushfires, farming and urban development.
Estimates of the wild koala population vary but the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) in September 2021 claimed numbers have dwindled to approximately 50,000.
The new funding includes A$20 million for habitat restoration projects and A$10 million each for community initiatives and the government’s koala census, which is led by national science agency the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).
“Our A$50 million investment will enhance the protection of koalas by restoring koala habitat, improving our understanding of koala populations, supporting training in koala treatment and care, and strengthening research into koala health outcomes,” Morrison said in a statement.
“Koalas are one of Australia’s most-loved and best-recognized icons, both here at home and across the world, and we are committed to protecting them for generations to come.”
Environmental groups have long been critical of the scale of land clearing in koala habitats, which has been exacerbated by Australia’s devastating bushfires.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimated that 60,000 koalas perished nationwide in the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires.
The AKF has called for the government to abandon the koala census and instead focus all its efforts on habitat conservation.
Ley said on Saturday that widespread habitat restoration projects were already underway.
“The extra funding will build on work already happening across the koala range to restore and connect important habitat patches, control feral animal and plant species, and improve existing habitat,” she said.