DrThe ubiquitous contagion between koalas, smoldering forest fires, drought, deforestation and urban invasion are some of the many devastating forces that continue to threaten their survival. A government report in June 2020 warned that these forces could cause Australia’s famous animal to go extinct in New South Wales – the most populous state – by 2050.
“They are, in fact, at risk of extinction in our lifetimes,” Philpott says of the New South Wales koala population, at a veterinary clinic on the outskirts of Sydney. In his spare time, the Australian nurse dedicates himself to sick koalas with some volunteers.
“If the areas that didn’t burn last year were burning this year, it would be really catastrophic,” says Philpott, the nation’s largest animal rescue organization at the request of his daughter. Wildlife Information, Rescue, and Education Service, WIRES for short, join up. “The fires of the future may mean the end of them.”
The worst summer forest fire in a generation destroyed more than 11.2 million acres, nearly half the size of the United Kingdom, placing gray tree marsupials at the center of the national debate and becoming a hot political issue.
In New South Wales, at least 5,000 koalas have died in fires that have burned 80 percent of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Site and 24 percent of the koala’s habitat is on public lands, according to a government report released in June.
As another summer approaches, koalas are at risk of more wildfires, although forecasters are expecting a few wetter and cooler months than last year.
Koala conservationists, who blame climate change for so many wildfires, are focusing on cities, as population growth in urban areas such as Sydney is increasing demand for deforestation and home space. Road safety signs now appear in developed suburbs warning of the danger of koalas crossing the street.
“There has to be a balance to ensure the survival of these species,” says Tracy, a WIRES volunteer.
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