With bushfires and habitat destruction, Australian koalas are listed as Endangered under national environment law.
Did you know that east coast koala numbers have declined by more than 50% in just 20 years?
Sam Harris, along with her husband Luke, planted koala food and habitat trees to help restore the homes of koalas in the hope to raise awareness and encourage Aussies to do their part in supporting habitat regeneration.
What motivated you to get involved in tree planting?
I’ve been working with WWF-Australia for a number of years now, and this is a particularly special project close to my heart.
It’s absolutely heartbreaking to know that our iconic east coast koalas are on the brink of extinction and are currently listed as endangered under national environmental law. When tourists think of Australia, I think the first two animals that come to mind are the koala and kangaroo. Imagine if one of those iconic animals were gone for good? Tragically, east coast koala numbers have declined by more than 50% in just 20 years.
Working with WWF-Australia, I hope to help raise awareness about the challenges our iconic koalas are facing and inspire action to ensure they thrive for future generations.
Where did you plant trees?
We spent the whole morning planting trees in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales on-site with WWF-Australia partner Bangalow Koalas.
What did you learn about koalas that you didn’t know about?
I learnt that one of the biggest threats koalas face is the loss and fragmentation of their homes – forcing them to spend more time on the ground and making them increasingly vulnerable to injury and animal attacks. So the trees we planted will help create vital wildlife corridors for koalas, so in due course, they can travel safely between open stretches of land.
In-Depth: Talking with a Conservation Scientist, WWF-Australia
After talking with Sam Harris, we talked with Tanya Pritchard, a Conservation Scientist at WWF-Australia.
What threats do koalas face?
Sadly, koalas on the east coast of Australia face many threats, including the destruction and fragmentation of their homes due to excessive tree-clearing for agricultural and urban development.
The destruction and fragmentation of habitat means koalas must spend more time on the ground searching for another place to call home. This makes them much more vulnerable to being hit by cars and attacked by dogs, while elevated levels of stress make them prone to sickness and diseases, like Chlamydia.
What impact did the fires have on the wildlife and their habitats?
The 2019-20 Australian bushfires were catastrophic in scale and impact – both for people and nature. Up to 19 million hectares was burnt, with more than 12.6 million hectares primarily forests and woodlands. Nearly 3 billion animals were impacted by the fires.
But even before the bushfires, our native forests and wildlife were suffering due to the impacts of deforestation and climate change. The bushfires were the final straw for many wildlife, including the iconic east coast koala, now listed as Endangered to extinction under national environment law. East coast koalas alongside more than 480 animals are listed as at risk of extinction under Australia’s national environment law.
What other species were lost during the bushfires?
It is estimated that 1.25 billion animals were killed by the blazes including mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs. Tragically more than 300 threatened species have been affected and their habitats in fire zones severely impacted. More than half of the population of long-footed potoroos, rufous scrub birds and southern barred frogs have been put at risk from the one bushfire season.
On Kangaroo Island alone, up to 80% of the island’s glossy black cockatoo, echidna and dunnat populations felt the force of the fires.
The fires continue to have a devastating ripple effect across Australia.
Can we relocate koalas to safer spots?
The translocation of koalas is a complex and risky process that requires careful consideration of the risks and benefits. WWF-Australia focuses on protecting and restoring koalas existing habitats and tackling the causes of these threats including deforestation and weak nature laws.
We’re working in areas of koala significance to restore habitat by planting thousands of koala food and habitat trees, protecting existing koala habitat on private land through conservation agreements and ensuring we have strong nature laws to protect their homes. We hope this will ensure the long-term survival of koalas in their natural environment.
Why are wildlife corridors and national parks important?
Wildlife corridors, private conservation agreements and protected areas play a crucial role in safeguarding our precious biodiversity and ensuring the survival of countless species.
Wildlife corridors connect fragmented habitats, allowing animals to move, feed, breed, and adapt to changing conditions to promote long-term survival. Protected areas on the other hand, provide protected spaces for diverse ecosystems to thrive. They conserve critical habitats, maintain healthy populations, and preserve natural processes.
WWF-Australia has partnered with Bangalow Koalas to protect and restore vital koala habitats in Northern New South Wales. Over the past few years, we’ve supported Bangalow Koalas in planting more than 270,000 koala habitat trees and plan to have 500,000 new trees in the ground by 2025.
What does functionally extinct mean?
Functionally extinct refers to a critical situation where a species’ population has reached such low numbers that it can no longer play its role in the ecosystem effectively. While a few individuals may still exist, they aren’t able to contribute to the species’ overall health and survival. Functionally extinct species can also have cascading effects on their ecosystems, affecting other species and disrupting vital processes.
Does Australia have a significant tree register?
Australia does not have a comprehensive national tree register in place. However, there are various initiatives at the state and local levels aimed at documenting and protecting significant trees.
About WWF Australia
WWF-Australia are raising funds that could help plant an additional 100,000 koala food and habitat trees, providing homes for koalas. Sam Harris, alongside WWF-Australia, are urging Australians to get involved and give koalas a fighting chance by donating here.