Koalas may be one of our most loved and iconic native animals, but their popularity alone has not been enough to keep them out of harm’s way.
Our favourite marsupials are in trouble - and it is the loss of their habitat that is plunging populations into decline. Koalas are only found in Australia’s coastal and inland eucalyptus forests and woodland and are utterly dependent on a highly specific selection of trees for all aspects of living, feeding and breeding. As those trees make way for our cities, agriculture, mining and industry, koala numbers have fallen.
“Without their habitat, koalas don’t exist. It’s that simple,” says Christine Hosking, a koala researcher at the University of Queensland.
“The problem is that habitat loss is increasing all the time, which means that koala numbers are going to keep decreasing.”
Tree-clearing has become the single biggest threat to our koala populations. According to the Nature Conservation Council, 17 of NSW’s 20 deforestation hotspots contain koala habitat, while the Australian Koala Foundation estimates that 80% of original koala habitat has been cleared since European settlement.
Koala habitat is also being lost to climate change. Hosking says that as extended heatwaves and droughts become more common in the west of Queensland and New South Wales, koala habitat in those areas is often declining in quality and quantity. Trees are dying, and those that aren’t are can be lower in nutrients and moisture.
Climate modelling shows that suitable habitat for koala populations will shift further east, where drought and heatwave extremes are not as severe. There, koalas are subjected to urban sprawl and the added threats of city life, such as exposure to cars and dogs.
“It’s a double whammy of climate change in the west and urbanisation in the east,” Hosking says of the pressures on koala habitat.
The effect on koala numbers is stark: In Queensland, where koalas have thrived for millennia, a state government study found some koala populations declined by up to 80%. A 2016 report showed koala population loss in Queensland and New South Wales to be 53% and 26%, respectively, while the federal government puts the rate of decline of Queensland and New South Wales’s combined koala population at 42%. Last year, World Wildlife Fund Australia conservation biologist Martin Taylor made a blunt prognosis for the health of our koalas: if we don’t do something now, koalas may be extinct by 2050.
Hosking believes that focus now needs to be placed squarely on preserving the healthy koala habitat that lies between the parched west and the urban east, and says that she is “heartened” by the efforts being made at all levels of government after heeding to alarmed calls for action for koalas, who need our help more than ever.
“Our native animals have been here for 30 million years or more, they are tough as old boots,” she says. “But that toughness can only last so long.”
It’s not too late to make a difference and at NRMA Insurance, we are committed to helping our koalas and protecting their homes. We’re planting a koala-friendly tree for every new home insurance policy sold until the end of the year and we’ve partnered with Conservation
Volunteers Australia to deliver real action for koalas and their habitats. Join us as we volunteer on koala-friendly projects here, spot koalas in the wildand meet our favourite marsupials