Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis could push our beloved koala into the endangered category, according to Environment Minister Sussan Ley.
Koalas in NSW, ACT and Queensland have been considered a “vulnerable” species since 2012, but this status does not include the populations in Victoria and South Australia, which were believed to be higher. However, this bushfire seasons has wreaked havoc on what was once a stable population of native animals.
According to Ley, the populations of our cuddly natives have taken an “extraordinary hit” as fires sweep through much of their natural habitats, according to 7 News.
“It may be necessary to bring forward the assessment, that (the Threatened Species Scientific Committee) would be doing in any case to see whether, in certain parts of the country, koalas move from where they are, which is often vulnerable, up to endangered,” Ley told reporters.
“Everything that can be done to rescue and recover koala habitat will be done,” she added.
Although the full extent of the population loss will not be known until the blazes are extinguished, it is estimated that approximately 30% of the northern NSW koala habitat has been lost so far.
According to NBC News, approximately 30,000 koalas have been injured or killed as a result of this bushfire season alone. The total wildlife death toll is estimated to exceed 1 billion.
In addition to wiping out a high population of koalas, this season’s bushfires have also destroyed the animals habitats and food sources, which poses further threats to their conservation.
The unfortunate news comes after Ley and Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced a $50 million plan to help with animal protection during a visit to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.
The fund will be split equally between two separate causes.
The first being an expert panel, managed by Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box, which will influence how the government handles wildlife during bushfires. The other $25 million will be split amongst wildlife hospitals, carers and zoos to help with breeding insurance populations of vulnerable species.
“We know that koalas have really taken a hit and it will be some time before we know exactly what that means for their numbers but obviously koalas will be a big area of focus for us,” Box said.
In addition to the $50 million funding, organisations such as WIRES have received close to $14 million in donations since the start of the bushfire season.