Australian researchers have discovered a previously unknown koala population in a major boost to conservation efforts.
In a study published on Thursday, Australian National University (ANU) researchers revealed the existence of a “significant” koala population in the Kosciuszko National Park, a colder, more arid landscape than traditional koala habitats, reports Xinhua news agency.
The survey, which was undertaken with the New South Wales (NSW) National Parks and Wildlife Service, observed male koalas at 14 sites in the park, prompting hopes that the area could become a refuge for the species.
“These findings are important because of the area’s elevation, which we hope will make the populations more resilient to climate change,” ANU ecologist David Lindenmayer said in a media release.
“Kosciuszko is going to be one of the last places in NSW to really experience some of those extreme temperatures. And so it will be … a really important refuge for beasties like that, that could otherwise be quite climate sensitive. I’m pretty excited about what we’re finding,” he was quoted as saying.
“It’s not going to solve the problem but it’s reassuring that we might have more of a hope… than we originally thought.”
Australia’s federal government in February officially listed the koala as endangered after a decline in population numbers due to land clearing and bushfires.
Earlier in the year, it announced an additional A$50 million ($35 million) in funding over the next four years for koala recovery programmes.
Experts have warned that without major intervention the species could go extinct by 2050.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, 60,000 koalas perished in the catastrophic 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires in Australia.