New South Wales and Queensland have seen devastating fires over the past month. The fires pose a threat to the existence of koalas. It is estimated that over 1000 koalas and 80% of their natural habitat have been lost to the bushfires this year. Even though firefighting and rescue efforts are ongoing, the death toll keeps rising as the fires continue to spread and destroy.
Rescuers have found a number of koala carcasses and rescued very few koalas from the devastated areas. However, it is estimated that over a thousand koalas have perished or will perish in the fires. At the same time, 80% of the habitat in which koalas need to survive has been destroyed. The small population left is not enough for the species to remain viable. This means that the population is so low that extinction of the species is inevitable. Thus, koalas are been noted as "functionally extinct".
Chairperson of the Australian Koala Foundation, Deborah Tabart, claims that deforestation has a large role to play in the dwindling koala population. In the past two months, the bushfires have acted as a catalyst in the destruction of the koala's habitat. Tabart believes that the koalas were already facing habitat destruction due to deforestation.
Tabart pointed out that koalas base their diet primarily on eucalyptus leaves. Eucalyptus trees are slow-growing trees. The shortage of rain in New South Wales means that the food source for the surviving koala population will be scarce. If the koalas have not been killed off by the fire, they will face food shortages and eventual starvation.
Tabart told the Daily Mail that she urged the government to enact the Koala Protection Act. The act is similar to the protection act which allowed the Great Barrier Reef to recuperate.
According to Tabart the action taken by rescuers and koala hospitals need to be supplemented by government support.
Ellenborough Lewis, the koala who was rescued by New South Wales woman Toni Doherty had to be euthanised. Doherty's act of bravery was recorded as she ran into flames to wrap the stranded Lewis in her shirt and rescue him. 9news reported that the 14-year-old koala's burns left him in a critical condition without any hope for recovery.