Koalas on the Brink of Extinction

Cute and cuddly, teddy-bear like, the sight of Australia‘s iconic koalas hugging the tree branches captivates us all. With the koala population dwindling at such a rapid pace, we would not be able to catch a glimpse of this beautiful sight for long.

Koalas are native to the east coast of Australia which is composed of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. They are marsupials like kangaroos carrying their young ones in a protective pouch. Apart from their highly appealing appearance; they also show some fascinating living habits. Being nocturnal in nature they are seen moving around mostly during night by slowly sliding up and down the trees using their paws. They feed on the leaves of eucalyptus trees. When it comes to their eating habits koalas are notoriously fussy eaters. Though there are more than 700 species of eucalyptus found in their habitat, these marsupials prefer the leaves of only few.

Scientists who surveyed koalas and koala habitat for the Australian Koala Foundation recently concluded that the total population of koalas left may be as few as 43,000.The foundation also declared these marsupials as “Vulnerable species” indicating the urgent action needed to halt their distressing decline. According to the Foundation, the Koalas have suffered extensive habitat loss due to deforestation. Almost 80% of the eucalyptus forest areas in which they live are being cut down to make room for houses, roads and farms.

Climate change being another major threat to the lives of koalas.“The rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have pushed up the toxins and lowered the nutrients in eucalyptus leaves. With drop in the leaf quality, the koalas are forced to roam further afield searching for food in the shrinking forests. The further they have to travel, the more frequently they are on ground and the more likely they are to be attacked by dogs and killed by road accidents” says Dr. Dan Lunney,a leading koala expert with the NSW department of Environment and Climate change.

There are a host of other problems too, leading to the death of large number of koalas. In the 1920s, approximately 3 million koalas were shot for their fur. But today hunting of koalas is punishable by law. Apart from this, deadly diseases like Chlamydia kills many koalas “Nearly half the number of koalas arriving at the koala hospitals in southeast Queensland have disease.” says the Climate Change and Sustainability Minister, Kate Jones.

Besides being the most adorable animals, koalas also contribute a lot to the Australian tourism industry. They form a major source of revenue contributing approximately 3.4 billion dollars per year to the Australian economy. A study entitled “Koalas and Tourism: An Economic Evaluation” was commissioned by the Australian Koala Foundation to indicate the importance of koalas for the economy and the nation. “The preservation of the species is seen by the community as the responsibility of the conservation authorities. We hope this study will make people realize that the koala’s conservation is everyone’s responsibility including tour companies, airlines, hotels and anyone else enjoying the benefits of overseas tourism” says Deborah Tabart, the executive director of Australian Koala foundation.

The only way we can save koalas is by saving their habitats and this is what the Australian koala foundation is dedicated to achieve. This organization is working hard carrying out research, spreading awareness about koalas and seeking solutions to the problems faced by them. But the foundation receives no funding from the government and relies on donations from people like us to help raise funds for their important work. The Australian Wildlife Hospital is yet another group working towards the mission of protecting koalas. They collect sick, injured and orphaned koalas and provide care and rehabilitation in a state-of-the-art facility before releasing them back into the wild.

Saving koalas is the collective responsibility of all of us. Through donations, we can help these organizations in their noble mission. Each of us can contribute our bit in saving the homes of koalas by taking simple steps like saying no to plastics, recycling cans and paper, using public transport instead of cars and planting trees. So the next time you get tempted to use plastics or commute to work by your car, think of the baby koala innocently gazing at you begging for life. You will surely be moved to resist the temptation and lead a more environment friendly life.

Swati R

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/soundog/412139100/]