Koalas Are Now ‘Functionally’ Extinct, Experts Say

They’re cuddly. They’re terribly cute. And in Australia, they’re almost gone. Yes, we’re talking about the animal we often associate with the Land Down Under. The iconic koala is “functionally extinct” in the place it famously represents.

“Functionally extinct” means the population of a species has declined to the point where it can no longer play a significant role in the ecosystem or it can’t produce enough offspring to keep the species going.

Main photo credit: Bobtokyoharris/Getty Images

The Australian Koala Foundation says there are now as few as 80,000 koalas left in the wild, which may sound like a lot but in fact means they are unlikely to produce a new generation. A ‘functionally extinct’ species occurs when the population is so low it has stopped affecting its environment, has no pairs of breeding adults left, or has so few breeding pairs that the species could succumb to genetic disease.

According to the foundation, there are no koalas left at all in 41 out of 128 Federal environments that are known koala habitats. Although koalas have a tendency to move around and alter its habitat, therefore sometimes making them harder to track, researchers believe numbers are in steep decline.

Research carried out in 2016 suggested there was around 330,000 koalas left in Australia, however this number could be as low as 144,000 or as high as 600,000, according to the MailOnline. Koalas are dying out due to habitat loss from deforestation, and heatwaves caused by climate change. According to recent studies, thousands of koalas died from dehydration last year after an intense heatwave in the country.


Koalas have been listed as a ‘vulnerable’ species since 2012 on the Red List, compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Between 1890 and 1927, around 8 million koalas were reportedly shipped to London after being shot for their fur. Deborah Tabart, chairman of the Koala Foundation, has called for the Australian prime minister to take urgent action to save the native species.

She said:

I am calling on the new Prime Minister after the May election to enact the Koala Protection Act (KPA) which has been written and ready to go since 2016. The plight of the Koala now falls on his shoulders.

Koalas are listed as vulnerable in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. And though they are not listed as vulnerable in Victoria or South Australia, local populations are thought to have already gone extinct.

The term ‘functionally extinct’ describes a species that has declined to such a low point that it no longer plays a significant role in its ecosystem. Koalas are known to have played a significant role in Australia’s ecosystem, with fossil records dating back around 30 million years. The help keep forests healthy by eating the upper leaves of trees, and fertilizing the forest floor with their droppings.

Main photo credit: Pixabay/Pexels

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