Are Koalas Nearing Extinction?

Halle Mckenzie, Reporter

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In September of 2019, lightning struck Gospers Mountain in a region known as New South Wales in Australia. This strike caused many of the trees to instantly go up in flames and, due to the many dry winters Australia has suffered, spread at a very rapid place. These fires have continued for over three months and thousands of people have lost their homes and some have unfortunately lost their lives.  

One of the biggest travesties of these wide-spread fires has been the loss of animals.  It is estimated that more than one billion animals perished. Animals in the reptile families fared relatively well, since they were able to bury themselves underground.  But marsupials, such as kangaroos, koalas and wombats were not as fortunate since they had nowhere to escape to.  

A rumor started spreading around the internet that koalas were now “functionally extinct”, meaning that there is no way that their species will ever be able to repopulate.  But scientists in Australia believe that there are 300,000 adult koalas that survived, and conservationists from around the world are doing everything they can to help monitor repopulation efforts.  

Interestingly enough, only 8% of the koala forests were impacted by the fires. Conservationists believe that the real threat is the clearing of forests, and that complete extinction is possible if excessive tree clearing isn’t stopped. 

There are still many dangers from the Australian fires, considering that there are still over 100 fires burning.  Hazards to animals are just a small part of what Australians are dealing with. The haze from the fires has found it way into many popular urban cities, where the air quality has been measured as 11 times more hazardous than acceptable conditions.  Smoke filtration masks are in high demand, and are so hard to come by that the governor had to create rations for them, giving them to those who are the most vulnerable (such as the elderly).

Altogether, the fires have destroyed 17.9 million acres, destroying or damaging more than 2300 homes over six states.  The dry season for Australia will not end until February and there are currently many groups working to ensure that the damage will be slowed and eventually halted.

This is the popular Bondi beach, where the haze is so thick that beach-goers are forced to wear smoke-filtration masks.