Technology & Science

Australia lists koala as vulnerable species

Australia's federal environment minister has announced stronger protections for the iconic koala, which will be listed as a vulnerable species under the national environment law.

New status applies to most 'at risk' populations

A female Queensland joey koala clings to its mother. Australia's environment minister, Tony Burke, has announced that the most at-risk koala populations need to be included on the national list of threatened species. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)

Australia’s federal environment minister has announced stronger protections for the iconic koala, which will be listed as a vulnerable species under the national environment law.

Tony Burke said the new status will only apply to the most "at risk" koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, which will now be protected by national threatened species legislation.

The populations in South Australia and Victoria, however, have been intentionally left out. Burke argued those koalas have unsustainable eating habits and that their numbers need to be managed.

Koalas are an iconic Australian animal and they hold a special place in the community.

"Koala populations are under serious threat from habitat loss and urban expansion, as well as vehicle strikes, dog attacks and disease," said Burke.

"However, koala numbers vary significantly across the country, so while koala populations are clearly declining in some areas, there are large, stable or even increasing populations in other areas."

Most koalas live in eucalypt forests or woodland inlands along Australia's eastern and south-eastern coastline. Their new designation is a result of nearly a decade of lobbying by scientists and local environmental groups, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. 

The paper reported that a Senate environment inquiry into the conservation status of the koala, conducted last year, called for a $36-million funding boost for koala disease research. The inquiry was Australia’s first comprehensive parliamentary report on a single species. 

"People have made it very clear to me that they want to make sure the koala is protected for future generations," said Burke, adding that his decision was based on a thorough assessment conducted over three years by the federal government's Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

"Koalas are an iconic Australian animal and they hold a special place in the community."

Important first step or so-called 'green tape'?

Supporters called the move an important first step.

"The listing alone will not save the koala," University of Central Queensland Professor Alistair Melzer told the Herald. "It's basically a label that says we've got to a point where koalas are in serious trouble and need careful management if they're going to survive."

The ecologist called for the creation of a federally managed state-by-state report card to rank progress made in koala conservation and keep tabs on research dollars for the cause.

But not everyone is happy with the koala’s new designation.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman blasted the move as another example of "mindless green tape" that will threaten jobs in his region’s construction industry.

"The federal government says one thing, and then goes and does another," he told The Australian newspaper, referring to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s recent pledge to streamline environmental approvals.

He argued that koalas are already well protected in Queensland, and that the state should taken the reins if the federal government wanted to do more to protect the region's marsupials.

now