There are no exact figures for how many koalas live in the wild in their native home Australia, but estimates are between 43,000 and 100,000. In 2012, the Environmental Protection and Conservation Act listed the koala as “vulnerable” but provides no legislative protection for the koala or its habitat. So, are koalas endangered?
Why Are Koalas Endangered ?
The koala has no natural predators and can no longer be hunted for its soft pelt. Still, dangers to its survival include shrinking habitats due to agricultural expansion and urban development, certain diseases, bushfires and severe droughts, attacks by dogs, and being hit by cars while crossing roads on all fours.
Koalas live on a diet of eucalyptus leaves, consuming up to two and a half pounds (one kilogram) of leaves each night. Eucalyptus trees are plentiful in the koala’s native habitat in Australia’s Eastern and Southeastern states. The trouble is that out of some 600 species of eucalyptus trees, koalas only eat the leaves of a few species.
In a koala’s home range, there may be only four or five species of eucalyptus leaves it will taste. For a koala colony to survive, there need to be around 100 trees for each adult koala.
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To make things even more complicated, individual koalas have personal tastes in which eucalyptus leaves they eat. If a koala is forced to move to a new home range that does not have its favorite trees, it can starve to death, even though surrounded by the food it could eat.
Young male koalas are transient from the ages of about two to four or five years of age as they seek to establish their home range. They can frequently travel on all fours over long distances, becoming vulnerable to attack by dogs as they cross suburban backyards and are susceptible to being hit by cars as they crossroads at night.
Koala crossing signs are commonly erected on roadsides in areas koalas are known to inhabit; however, cars remain the giant killer of koalas in Australia.
Koalas are also threatened by disease, particularly chlamydia and koala retrovirus (which is similar to AIDS in humans) and the loss of food sources and habitat caused by bushfire and drought.
Australia’s Efforts To Bring Koalas Back From The Brink Of Extinction
Many concerned people in Australia feel that the koala is not sufficiently protected under legislation. Organizations such as the Australian Koala Foundation are committed to the introduction of a Koala Protection Act. You can help their ongoing fight through their Adopt A Koala program.
There are many excellent koala research centers and breeding programs at zoos and wildlife parks around Australia. Having your photo taken cuddling a koala is now banned in most states (except Queensland), as it is thought to cause stress to these gentle animals.
In 1973, the Koala Preservation Society was formed to save the lives of injured and diseased koalas. The Society built the first, and only, koala hospital in Australia in the coastal town of Port Macquarie, about a four-hour drive north of Sydney.
The hospital is almost entirely run by volunteers, has eight intensive care units and its own Koala Ambulance. Every year, the hospital cares for around 250 koalas. You can also adopt a koala via the Koala Hospital.
Visit the site to view the adventures of a small koala stuffed animal toy called Barry as he is spotted around the world. Barry, the toy is based on Westhaven Barry, a permanent koala resident at the hospital who is a favorite with volunteers for his grumpy, naughty behavior and hilarious antics!
So, are koalas endangered? The answer is “not officially,” however, these beautiful creatures are very vulnerable, and you can help.