At least 5,000 koalas died in bushfires, says report

Following yesterday’s (3 March) World Wildlife Day, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has called for koalas to be uplisted from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’, after a study revealed that at least 5,000 New South Wales koalas were killed during the recent bushfires.

An image of a koala
An image of a koala
Imogen Benson

A new study published today (4 March) by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has revealed that at least 5,000 koalas were killed during the recent bushfires in New South Wales (NSW). 

With this figure representing 12 per cent of the NSW koala population, the report concludes that climate breakdown poses an immediate threat to the extinction of koalas, calling for urgent measures to protect the species by uplisting the animals from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’. 

The report highlights that the species had already experienced significant population decline prior to the bushfires of October 2019 to January 2020, with up to two thirds of the state’s koala population lost due to drought, bushfires and human-made causes over the last three generations. 

The report comes on the heels of yesterday’s (3 March) World Wildlife Day, which focused on the theme ‘Sustaining all life on Earth’. 

Describing the situation as a “koala emergency”, Josey Sharrad, IFAW Wildlife Campaigner, said: “Koalas were already living on the brink before these fires, with populations declining in many areas due to excessive land clearing, disease and roadkill and local extinctions already known to have occurred. The disaster and the ongoing nature of the threats could push koalas over the edge.

“This is a koala emergency. Koalas must be immediately uplisted to Endangered on an emergency basis and a moratorium on all harmful activities impacting koalas enforced to allow surviving populations some breathing space while their capacity to recover is further assessed.”

The IFAW has submitted a nomination to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, co-signed by Friends of the Koala, Humane Society International (HSI) and Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, and is urging members of the public to write to the New South Wales Environment Minister Matt Kean to ask for koalas to be urgently uplisted to Endangered. 

In January, at the height of the bushfires in which an estimated one billion animals were killed, former Green Party MEP Alexandra Phillips called on individual and government action to curb the worst effects of the climate crisis, explaining while “each and every one of us can play a role in slowing down climate change” for example by taking fewer flights and switching to a plant-based diet, ultimately “we need systemic change at a governmental level”.

You can read the report, ‘Koala conservation in New South Wales’, on the IFAW website.