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Wildlife Expert Believes ​Koalas Are 'Functionally Extinct' After Australian Bushfires

Wildlife Expert Believes ​Koalas Are 'Functionally Extinct' After Australian Bushfires

A wildlife expert has said she believes koalas are 'functionally extinct' as a result of bushfires in Australia, which have not only killed thousands of the animals, but also destroyed 80 percent of their natural habitat.

Deborah Tabart OAM, chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation, estimates that more than 1,000 koalas may have been killed in the last two months, which has left the marsupials 'functionally extinct'.

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The BBC says this term is used to describe an animal population with so few pairs that they're unlikely to produce a new generation.

Deborah Tabart. Credit: Australian Koala Foundation
Deborah Tabart. Credit: Australian Koala Foundation

The decline in the population is the result of deforestation and bushfires, which have been continuing to wreak havoc in New South Wales and Queensland.

Some people have questioned Tabart's use of the term 'functionally extinct', originally published in an Australian Koala Foundation press release in May - arguing that the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List lists them only as 'Vulnerable'.

However Tabart believes such terminology may not be an overstatement.

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Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, Tabart said: "If we combine all of the estimated deaths of koalas in the bushfires, there could be 1,000 koalas that have been killed in the last two months."

She added: "We know there are 31 koalas that have been killed in Port Macquarie, but I think that is not a high enough number."

Tabart explained that even koalas that have managed to survive the bushfires are still at first, as they have been left with little habitat - as trees with eucalyptus take 'months to grow back'.

She is now urging the government to step in and take action, calling on the Australian prime minister to enact the Koala Protection act, which was written back in 2016.

She said: "They are equivalent to the Great Barrier Reef. Everyone wants to touch a koala, so you would think the government would want to do something to save them.

A koala being saved from the fires by a local near Port Macquarie. Credit: 9News
A koala being saved from the fires by a local near Port Macquarie. Credit: 9News

"The plight of the Koala now falls on the Prime Minister's shoulders."

In an interview with news.com.au earlier this month, Tabart explained just what it meant for a species to be functionally extinct.

She said: "Functionally extinct means that a koala living today might have one joey and that joey may or may not have a joey, if they don't, that's functionally extinct.

"We think there's no more than 16-18,000 koalas in the whole of NSW... So to lose a population of that size in a stronghold is disastrous."

The bushfires stem from long-term drought in the area, coupled with strong winds on the east coast of Australia.

NASA satellite imagery showing smoke from bushfires, as of 13 November. Credit: NASA
NASA satellite imagery showing smoke from bushfires, as of 13 November. Credit: NASA

NASA satellite images show just how extensive the damage has been recently, with a post on the agency's website last week saying: "The state of New South Wales (NSW) in south eastern Australia is continuing to experience devastating bushfires due to the dry tinder-like atmosphere in the territory: high winds, dry lightning and continuing heat.

"Approximately 69 fires are still raging in NSW according to its Facebook page and more than 70 are burning to the south in Queensland.

"And the summer has just begun in the region. NASA's Terra satellite captured this image of the fires and the smoke pouring off the edge of Australia and into the southern Pacific Ocean on Nov 13, 2019.

"Close to 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres) have burned since September."

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: News, Animals, Australia

Jess Hardiman

Jess is a journalist at LADbible who graduated from Manchester University with a degree in Film Studies, English Language and Linguistics - indecisiveness at its finest, right there. She also works for FOODbible and its sister page Seitanists, which are both a safe haven for her to channel a love for homemade pasta, fennel and everything else in between. You can contact Jess at [email protected]

 

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