More than 60,000 koalas were killed, injured or displaced in the Australian bushfires at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has estimated.
Even before the fires, koala habitats had been rapidly declining due to land clearing for agriculture, urban development and mining.
In 2016 there were 329,000 koalas in Australia, according to a report by a panel of koala experts. But since then, there have been bushfires every year, reducing the number.
“That (60,000 figure) is a devastating number for a species that was already sliding towards extinction in Eastern Australia. We cannot afford to lose koalas on our watch,” WWF-Australia Chief Executive Dermot O’Gorman said in the report.
The last bushfires razed over 24 million hectares (59 million acres) in the country. Nearly three billion native animals were killed or injured by the bushfires.
South Australia’s Kangaroo Island was the worst-hit area for koalas, with around 40,000 koalas impacted by the fires, the WWF said. Nearly 11,000 in Victoria and 8,000 koalas in New South Wales (NSW) died or were hurt.
A NSW parliamentary inquiry in June concluded that koalas in the state could become extinct by 2050 unless the government immediately intervened to protect them and their habitat.
The WWF wants to prevent extinction by planting seeds of eucalyptus trees, which provide both food and shelter for koalas. And they’ll create a fund to encourage landowners to build safe places for koalas on their land.