Koalas “Functionally Extinct” After Australian Brushfires

The fires have destroyed 80 percent of their habitat

A dehydrated and injured Koala receives treatment at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie on November 2, 2019, after its rescue from a bushfire that has ravaged an area of over 2,000 hectares. - Hundreds of koalas are feared to have burned to death in an out-of-control bushfire on Australia's east coast, wildlife authorities said October 30. (Photo by SAEED KHAN / AFP) (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)
A dehydrated and injured Koala receives treatment at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie on November 2, 2019, after its rescue from a bushfire that has ravaged an area of over 2,000 hectares. - Hundreds of koalas are feared to have burned to death in an out-of-control bushfire on Australia's east coast, wildlife authorities said October 30. (Photo by SAEED KHAN / AFP) (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)
By Bonnie Stiernberg / November 24, 2019 4:11 pm

As brushfires and record-breaking drought continue to devastate Australia, koalas have become “functionally extinct.”

Deborah Tabart, chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation, estimates that over 1,000 koalas have been killed as a result of the fires and that 80 percent of their habitat has been destroyed, leading to their functional extinction.

As Forbes points out, the term “functional extinction” refers to when a species becomes so limited that they no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem and no longer are considered viable in the long term. In other words, while the surviving koalas could reproduce, the limited number of them makes the long-term viability of the species unlikely.

A GoFundMe page set up to raise money to treat koalas that were injured in the fires raised $1.3 million, far more than its $25,000 goal. Many Australians are urging their government to enact the Koala Protection Act, which was written in 2016 but never passed into law. The act would work to protect koalas from hunting as well as protect their habitat.

The Australia Zoo estimates there are only between 40,000 to 100,000 koalas left. “We believe the wild population of koalas is critically threatened and in need of our protection,” the Zoo said in a statement.

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