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Don’t Count the Koala Bear Out Just Yet

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Don’t Count the Koala Bear Out Just Yet

Don’t Count the Koala Bear Out Just Yet
November 26
19:32 2019

“Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated,” the great American satirist Mark Twain once proclaimed.  The same might be said about the Australian koala bear which has lost an estimated 80% of its natural habitat this year due to drought and raging bushfires.

Some environmentalists have already declared the koala “functionally extinct,” which, in theory, means that the bear’s numbers have shrunk to the point where it is unable to sustain sufficient population growth to survive long-term.

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But others say these fears are overblown.  There are far more koalas living in the wild than has been estimated officially, they argue, and the koala, like other mammals facing population pressures, is far more resilient than extinction “alarmists” assume.

More than 1,000 koala bears have died in recent months, according to Australian wildlife officials, either consumed by fire or dehydration or starved to death due to the destruction of millions of eucalyptus trees.  Koalas consume about 2 pounds of eucalyptus leaves daily.  It’s their most important food staple.

Some wildlife specialists estimate that there may be just 100,000 koalas left in the wild.  Others say it could be as low as 43,000.

But ecologists like Diana Fisher say the recent brushfires damaged only 1 million hectares of the 100 million hectares of forest in eastern Australia, and that koalas are still nowhere near functionally extinct
Another expert, biologist Christine Adams-Hosking of the University of Queensland, who has studied the marsupials’ agrees that the koalas are not on the road to being wiped out as a species..

“Australia is a big country, there are koalas all over the place and some of them are doing fine,” she says. “You can’t just make that statement broad-brush.”

Adams-Hoskins also questions claims that there are so few koalas left.  In 2016, she and colleagues estimated that there are around 300,000, more than enough to protect its genetic diversity and to ensure survival.

“But at the rate of habitat clearing that is going on, we are going to see increased local population extinctions,” she admits.

Images of the tiny cute koalas scorched or singed by fire have tugged at the heartstring of many observers, including Hollywood celebrities like Katie Holmes who have taken “selfies” of themselves with healthy koalas at the zoo.

Some advocates for koalas inside Australia and out are calling on the national government to launch a special protection effort on par with the endangered species campaigns on behalf of American bald eagles.

But skeptics say the fuss over koalas largely comes down to politics.

The recent bushfires coincided with Australian national elections in which climate change features as a major policy issue. Many environmentalists blame the recent spate of brushfires on climate change, and for them, the plight of the koala has become a convenient – and exaggerated — symbol for the deadly fall-out from the phenomenon.

Others point to the encroachment on wildlife habitats by real estate developers and home builders as a reason for the growing threat to koalas, as well as to other marsupials, especially.

But skeptics note that even some marsupials long thought to be extinct have been shown to be alive and kicking – and indeed, thriving.

For example, the guinea-pig sized mulgara, which eights just 5 ounces was rediscovered in the Australian outback in 2017.

While small, the mulgara is considered a “fierce micro-predator” that feeds on small mammals, reptiles and insects.

Other marsupials like Bilbys and have faced population pressure due largely to the presence of a number of invasive species.  One Australian national park has launched its own conservation effort that focuses on creating special enclosures for the animals and reducing predator populations as the vulnerable marsupials are re-introduced

The real lesson?  Nature is enormously complex and conflicts between species are inevitable.  In many cases, figuring out how to keep warring animal populations from destroying each other is just as critical as protecting them from the presumed ravages of humans.  In the end, there are few real villains.

Koalas will survive, though it may take some constructive animal habitat policies – rather than finger-pointing and animal rights hysteria — to get the job done.

About Author

Stewart L

Stewart L

Stewart Lawrence is a trained sociologist and political scientist and a regular columnist for the Washington Times and the Federalist. He is also a former feature contributor to Inside Philanthropy, Counterpunch and the Huffington Post. In 2012 and 2016, he covered the US presidential election campaign for the conservative news magazine Daily Caller. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and Washington Post. He is currently working on a book about the politics of US immigration policy.

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1 Comment

  1. Anthony
    Anthony December 02, 10:32

    A pleasure to read a balanced hysteria-free piece on this subject. Koalas are indeed gorgeous creatures and it is a terrible shame that they were once widely hunted for their furs.

    It’s also a terrible shame that they’re used for political propaganda by climate and other extremists who think only in terms of worst-case scenarios and have zero appreciation of resilience in nature.

    By the way, there’s a subtle observation to be made about the motivation of persons who purport to surrogately assert animal rights as pre-empting or equalling our own. In all cases they’re not talking about flies or cockroaches or rats but about the likes of apes or koalas, i.e., animals that either RESEMBLE us or LOOK CUTE to us.

    In other words, their so-called respect for animal rights amounts to a projection of their own HUMAN tastes onto the animal kingdom. How human-centric is that?!

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