Conservation groups are asking the government in New South Wales, Australia, to declare koalas endangered following the devastating bushfires in the area.
A new study from the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Biolink research group found that at least 5,000 koalas are estimated to have died in the recent fires in New South Wales, about 12 percent of the koala population in the state. However, the study found that the deaths in the fires were only the most recent setback for the species.
According to the report, up to two-thirds of the koala population in New South Wales has died in the last three generations “due to drought, bushfires and man-made causes.”
The IFAW is now seeking an emergency endangered species classification for koalas in the Australian state.
“We’ve taken a conservative approach,” Dr. Stephen Philips, a research scientist with Biolink, told The Guardian. “But we still think that we have lost two out of every three koalas in NSW. It’s a spectacular loss in terms of conservation criteria and meets endangered listing almost immediately.”
“The situation won’t get better. It will get worse,” he added. “For koalas, the threat for extinction [in New South Wales] becomes elevated because they won’t be able to get their numbers up before the next fire event.”
In a statement to The Guardian, the New South Wales government said they were convening an independent panel to assess the effect the bushfires had on koalas.
“This season’s significant bushfires have resulted in devastating losses to koala numbers across NSW and may have compounded their vulnerable status, so it is imperative that remaining populations and habitat are protected,” the statement said, according to the outlet. “Although there is no firm estimate of the number of koalas affected by the recent fires, at this stage, approximately one-quarter of the modeled koala habitat in eastern NSW is within the fire-affected area.”
Last month, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said that the fires in the state were officially contained and under control after a devastating bushfire season.
“In what has been a very traumatic, exhausting and anxious bushfire season so far, for the first time this season all bush and grass fires in NSW are now contained,” the department wrote on Twitter. “It has taken a lot of work by firefighters, emergency services and communities to get to this point.”
In January, experts announced that an estimated one billion animals in Australia have died from the wildfires, including thousands of koalas. Koalas have reportedly been hit the hardest due to their slow-moving nature and the fact they only eat eucalyptus tree leaves, which come from oily, highly-flammable plants.
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