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Koalas are on track to go extinct in a part of Australia before 2050

Koalas facing extinction in some areas

Koalas in the Australian state of New South Wales are on track to become extinct in the wild within the next 30 years, according to a report released Tuesday. Bushfires in the region from 2019 to this year have resulted in devastating losses to koalas, according to the report by the parliament of the southeastern state of Australia.

"Given the scale of loss to koala populations across New South Wales as a result of the 2019- 2020 bushfires and without urgent government intervention to protect habitat and address all other threats, the koala will become extinct in New South Wales before 2050," the report says.

A year-long inquiry into the matter was conducted because "of significant concern in the community about the future of Australia's most loved animal, the koala," said Cate Faehrmann, the chairman of the committee that conducted the inquiry. 

"Even before the devastating 2019-2020 bushfires it was clear that the koala in NSW, already a threatened species, was in significant trouble, with the committee finding that the official government estimate of 36,000 koalas contained in the NSW Koala Strategy is outdated and unreliable," Faehrmann writes in the forward to the report. "Then came the fires."

According to the report, at least 5,000 koalas were lost in the bushfires, which killed an estimated more than 1 billion animals in Australia.

New South Wales was been plagued by wildfires from July 2019 until they finally stopped on March 2, according to New South Wales Rural Fire Service. That's more than 240 days of fire activity for the state, the fire service said on Twitter. 

At least 33 people died, including several firefighters, since the major blazes began in September. They also destroyed more than 3,000 homes and burned more than 26 million acres, according to The Associated Press. 

Animals like wallabies, kangaroos and koalas exist nowhere else in the world, and several species unique to Australia were at risk of extinction after the fires. 

An estimated 24% of koala habitats on public land were severely impacted by the fires, with some areas seeing a "devastating loss of up to 81 percent," according to the parliamentary report.

Wildlife ecologist Phil Spark said global warming is playing a part in the koala population's impending extinction.

"Worse is yet to come," Spark said, according to the report. "Going by this year's increased global emissions we are on track for two degrees of warming by 2050."

Spark said extreme one-in-100 year events could happen every year, and Australia can expect 50-degree heatwaves in the next 20 years. 

"To be prepared for the future we need to prioritise the needs of wildlife carers and secure the genetic diversity of koalas in captive breeding program," Spark said. "Unfortunately, the wild is no longer the safe place it used to be."

In the report, the committee makes several recommendations to help save the koalas, including a network of wildlife hospitals in key areas of the state, "staffed by suitably qualified personnel and veterinarians, including funding where appropriate." 

The committee also recommends additional funding for the government's Saving Our Species Iconic Koala Project, which already has been allocated $4 million over a 5-year period.

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