November 11, 2009

Koalas Given 30 Years Until Extinction

Conservationists are working to get Australia's koalas on the endangered species list, saying the beloved marsupial could be extinct in 30 years.

According the Australian Koala Foundation, the latest survey on the animal suggests that climate chance, disease and over-development have resulted in the number of koalas dropping by probably more than half in the past six years, reported AFP.

The study found between 43,000 and 80,000 koalas on mainland Australia, which is considerably less than the estimated 100,000 in 2003, said Foundation chief Deborah Tabart.

"We're saying (numbers) could be as low as 43,000 and as high as 80,000, she told public broadcaster ABC Radio.

A number of koalas have been wiped out by an outbreak of the sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia, and others have been affected by losing their habitat to deforestation and climate change, Tabart said.

They have also been faced with malnutrition as their primary food source, eucalyptus leaves, has lost much of its nutritional value due to hotter, drier weather, she said.

"I really think climate change is starting to affect koala populations," she said.

Tabart also said that the findings, based on surveys of almost 2,000 forest sites, indicate complete extinction of the species within 30 years if no action is taken.

In 2006, conservation groups were unable to have the iconic creature declared a vulnerable species, but Tabart believes the new data is clear evidence of a "drastic decline".

"There has been a great deal of opposition to the protection of the koala over many years and I think that still exists," she said.

Researcher Bill Ellis claims to have found proof of extinctions in certain areas and the east coast showed particularly "major declines in populations".

Even though the government's threatened species committee was scheduled to make a recommendation by the middle of 2010, representative Bob Beeton commented that the popularity of the koala would not persuade the group.

"There's a number of species which are charismatic and emotionally charged. We don't consider that," said Beeton.

"I mean, we'd consider the koala with the same level of diligence and dedication as if it were the death adder."


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