NEWS: Australia
The koala is designated an endangered species by Australia.

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.

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