KEY POINTS

  • The 2019-20 bushfires killed at least 5,000 koalas in New South Wales alone
  • It destroyed more than 11.2 million hectares of land across the country
  • A widespread Chlamydia infection is also threatening the health of koalas

Australia's iconic koalas are facing the threat of extinction due to a series of factors, from habitat loss due to bushfires to a pervasive infection among them.

A recent government report said the 2019-20 bushfires had a devastating effect on the koala population in the country, killing at least 5,000 koalas and razing an estimated 24% of their habitat in the state of New South Wales alone. It destroyed more than 11.2 million hectares of land across the country. The report warned that the tree-hugging marsupials could become extinct before 2050 if proper measures were not taken to protect them.

The bushfires have hit other vulnerable animals also. The greater gliders have lost 30% of their habitat in the fires. Several frog and fish species, such as Blue Mountains perch and Pugh's frog, are being considered for critically endangered listings by the government.

Morgan Philpott, who works for the Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service, told Reuters that the New South Wales Koala population "run the risk of becoming extinct inside our lifetime."

Bush fires are not the only problem the koalas face as some of them are getting infected with the widespread disease chlamydia. Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted illness that has hit the koala population hard, with a 100% infection rate in some wild populations. The infection is not usually fatal but it can affect the health of koalas.

Logging in forest areas is another that is putting the koala population at risk of extinction.

As another summer approaches, koalas face the threat of more bushfires, although weather forecasters are expecting a wetter season this time.

"This process is critical in ensuring threatened species are given strategic protection, are eligible for targeted funding and that awareness is raised about the issues impacting them," Australia's environment minister Sussan Ley said, the Guardian reported.

She said awareness should be raised concerning the issues affecting koalas.

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