The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) has announced that less than 80,000 koalas are left in the wild. At this point, they have become ‘functionally extinct’.
What is ‘functional extinction’?
While that number might seem like a big one, it’s unlikely that koalas can produce a new generation of young with the current population. In other words, koalas are now functionally extinct, as their numbers are falling below the critical point where they cannot be sustained in the long run.
Even if the marsupials do produce future offspring, inbreeding will occur, leading to a smaller gene pool which can make the entire species susceptible to diseases that can wipe the entire population.
Functional extinction also refers to the condition where a species becomes so small that they fail to have any impact on their environment.
Why is this happening?
Many threats are linked to koala extinction, including a chlamydia epidemic, but a majority of these causes can be related to human activity.
Global warming has triggered many heatwaves in Australia, and each time a heatwave hits, a sizeable number of koalas die. The combination of rising temperatures, bush fires and deforestation have decimated their habitats, eucalyptus forests — their only food source.
And when they migrate in search of a new home, that’s when they often get hit by oncoming traffic, one of the biggest koala killers.
Can anything be done?
The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) hopes that a last-ditch effort through legislation, also known as the Koala Protection Act (KPA) needs to be written into law immediately.
The NGO has been on the frontlines of the fight for koala conservation for over 3 decades and has seen their numbers dwindle by over 90% in that time. AKF has worked closely with 13 Australia’s Environment ministers since then, and in many times, action plans to keep koalas alive were imminent in many occasions, only to be relegated behind economic interests.
With the announcement that koalas are in fact, practically extinct, AKF hopes that the Prime Minister can finally summon the political will to protect koala habitats.