The vulnerable koalas

Koala forests play an important role in combating the effects of global climate change. Trees take CO2 from the atmosphere and through the process of photosynthesis convert it into organic carbon as they grow. 

By   |  Published: 14th Sep 2020  7:22 pm

The koala is one of the world’s most iconic animal species – right up there with the panda, tigerelephant, dolphin, and polar bear. And they’re found nowhere else in the world but Australia. The koala, also known as the koala bear, is a marsupial native to Australia. It is found in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. The koala is distinguished by its large head with fluffy ears, spoon-shaped nose, and tailless body. It is sometimes known as the koala bear because it resembles a bear though it is a marsupial.

Koala forests store carbon

Koala forests play an important role in combating the effects of global climate change. Trees take CO2 from the atmosphere and through the process of photosynthesis convert it into organic carbon as they grow.  As long as these trees do not decompose or burn, the carbon is safely locked away.  Photosynthesis also produces clean oxygen, which is released into the atmosphere.  The eucalypt species that grow in Koala forests have been proven to be among the most effective species in the world when it comes to storing carbon.  Koala forests are Australia’s carbon vault.

Ecological role of Koalas

The largest ecological role of the koalas is felt in the eucalypt forests, where they spend most of their time. The koala population in Australia is estimated at 80,000, but before the arrival of the aboriginal people, their population ranged into millions.

Koalas consume the excess vegetation; therefore, reduce the biomass that fuels frequent and intense fires. During the rainy season, koala droppings act as nutrients for the regeneration of undergrowth, ensuring that the forests regenerate to sustain future life. These excrements also serve as food for insects and small rodents. 

Koalas are not the only species that feed on eucalyptus, other animals and insects compete for the same source of food, but some are unable to climb higher to feed on the leaves. 

As the koalas feed, they break branches and drop leaves, making them available to ground insects. Before humans arrived in Australia, the natural predators of the koalas were large carnivores, including the marsupial lions, giant goanna, and giant pythons.

Honeyeaters gather fur, which is highly insulating, from koalas and build nests.  A well-insulated nest means warm babies in winter and cool babies in summer.

Forest fire kills koalas

The first comprehensive scientific study of the impact of the Black Summer bushfires on the state’s koala population has found more than 70 per cent of koalas were killed in the six study areas.

At one location, the Kiwarrak area south of Taree, there was no evidence of any living koalas, according to the ecological consultancy Biolink, which surveyed 123 sites at six fire grounds for a study on behalf of the World Wildlife Foundation.

Four major blazes – the Wardell fire, the Busby’s Flat fire, the Crestwood-Lake Innes fire, and the Hillville Road fire – swept through the study areas on the NSW north coast.

The decline in koala population varied from 34 percent in an area of Lake Innes Nature Reserve near Port Macquarie, to a likely 87 percent on Hillville Road at Khappinghat Nature Reserve.

Conservation bid

Officials in Australia say a large housing development project could be blocked to protect endangered koala bears in one of the fastest-growing parts of Australia’s biggest city.

The New South Wales government plans to create a sanctuary in Sydney to preserve the country’s last-remaining disease-free koalas. The animals are listed as vulnerable across New South Wales.

Koalas face many threats, including chlamydia – a bacterium that can cause pneumonia and infertility. Bushfires, habitat loss, attacks by dogs and road accidents are also significant threats.

Characteristics

  • Unique to Australia
  • A marsupial, not a bear
  • Sleeps high up in eucalyptus
  • tree for up to 20 hours a day

Diet

  • Eucalyptus leaves only
  • Fussy eaters- Diet limited to just a few varieties of eucalypt

Threats

  • Deforestation, urban development
  • Disease (chlamydia)
  • Bushfires
  • Climate change

Conservation

status: Vulnerable

Adult population:

3,00,000 (est.),

Decreasing

Adult weight:

male: 4-14 kg

female: 4-10 kg

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