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Koalas Now 'Functionally Extinct' After Australian Heatwaves And Bushfires

Amy Pilkington 24 Nov 2019

Australia has had a rough start to their summer, with a wave of hot, dry air and high winds causing dozens of bushfires throughout the continent.

So far hundreds of homes have been destroyed and there are four confirmed human deaths, but millions of acres of bush has also been burnt to a crisp.

The Australian wilderness is known for its unique wildlife and those animals are all in danger.

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So far, it seems like the animal most affected is the koala.

The poor marsupials were already having a tough couple of years.

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Years of deforestation and prolonged drought has already been chipping away at the population.

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They had already been considered vulnerable to extinction, but after these recent fires, experts are saying that they can now be classified as "functionally extinct."

According to the BBC's article on this news: "'Functionally extinct' describes an animal population which has so few pairs that they are unlikely to produce a new generation."

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The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that over 80% of the koala habitat is gone.

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Additionally, at least 1000 koalas have perished in the fires, though lack of food and water in the burned bush will likely cause that estimate to grow in coming weeks.

They believe that fewer than 80,000 koala still remain in the wild.

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That sounds like a lot, but it's unlikely to be enough to breed a new generation.

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To maintain a population, there needs to be enough mating pairs, and it's not like that 80,000 will be a perfect 50/50 split between males and females.

Additionally, koalas typically only have one joey per year, which makes a population bounce-back more difficult than for animals that breed litters.

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Animal welfare groups are doing everything they can to save and protect the remaining population.

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The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital alone has taken in dozens of burned and starving koalas, including Lewis, the koala whose rescue was caught on video last week.

The rescue also created a GoFundMe campaign to raise $25,000 to build water stations in the destroyed bush for animals still trying to survive in the wild.

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As of this writing, they've raised almost 1.5 million dollars from donors around the world.

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In their most recent update, they said that the extra money will allow them to expand the number of water stations to cover more of the affected area.

They also plan to use it to establish a wild koala breeding program in hopes of saving the marsupials from extinction.

h/t: BBC, SF Gate

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