Environment Minister Sussan Ley said there would be increased protection for the animal, classified as vulnerable only 10 years ago, in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
“The impact of prolonged drought, followed by summer black bushfires, and the cumulative impacts of disease, urbanization and habitat loss over the past 20 years have led to the advisory,” Ley said in a statement Friday.
Conservationists have long called for more support for the koala amid dramatic population declines across the country.
WWF-Australia, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Humane Society International all proposed the listing to the government in April 2020 after research revealed a population decline of about 50 percent in Queensland since 2001 and 62 percent in New South Wales.
WWF-Australia said the new designation was a “bittersweet outcome but a critical step” in reversing those declines.
“The koala’s Endangered status means that they and forest houses should receive greater protection under Australia’s National Environment Act,” the group said on Twitter. “Not only will this protect the iconic animal, but many other species living alongside it.”
Ley said that along with the status change, the government would begin work on a koala recovery plan backed by A$74 million ($52.9 million) in funding.
The review of future development plans would take into account the potential effect on the animal, she said.
“This decision is a double-edged sword,” IFAW Oceania regional director Rebecca Keeble said in a statement. “We should never have let it get to the point where we risk losing a national icon. This is a dark day for our nation.
“This should be a wake-up call for Australia and the government to act much more quickly to protect critical habitat from development and clearing and to seriously address the impacts of climate change.”
Thousands of koalas are believed to have been among the native animals killed in the fires that swept through Australia’s eastern and southern states in late 2019 and early 2020.
A survey last year in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, warned that the koala could become extinct by 2050.