Calls for koalas to be classified as endangered are growing as modelling shows that a quarter of koala habitat in eastern NSW falls within bushfire affected areas.
The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital and Friends of the Koala, Lismore joined leading animal welfare groups, WWF Australia, the Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare to formally request the state government recognise the plight of the koala.
It request follows one of the worst bushfire seasons on record where thousands of koalas are believed to have perished.
A department of planning, industry and environment spokesperson says remaining koala populations and habitats should be protected.
"This season's significant bushfires have resulted in losses to koala numbers across NSW and may have compounded their vulnerable status," a departmental spokesperson said.
"It is imperative that remaining populations and habitat are protected.
"Although there is no firm estimate of the number of koalas affected by the recent fires, at this stage, approximately one quarter of the modelled koala habitat in eastern NSW is within the fire affected area."
The plight of the koala was brought before the United Nations on March 3, 2020 as part of the UN's world Wildlife Day.
Leading the delegation were Port Macquarie Koala Hospital clinical director Cheyne Flanagan and project lead of the Mid North Coast Joint Organisation's koala recovery partnership project, Dr Rebecca Montague-Drake.
The delegation was able to talk directly with UN delegates about the threats that face koalas.
Currently, rampant development can still go unchecked but we have to realise that we (humans) don't dominate this planet.Cheyne Flanagan
Ms Flanagan said the state government had been very tardy to lift the status of the koala.
"Currently, rampant development can still go unchecked, We have to realise that we humans don't dominate this planet," she said.
"We have stop this mindset that this world is there for us to rape and pillage. We simply cannot continue to do what we are doing because it is going to come back to bite us.
"The COVID-19 crisis has made it glaringly obvious that we have to change the way we do things," she said.
Ms Flanagan said elevating the koala to endangered status literally has to happen.
"We have to stop these animals from going extinct," she said. "We really don't understand the role koalas play in the environment.
"Scientists know that koalas recycle nutrients and that there are also two species of moths that only lay their eggs in koala poo.
"I think we have a moral responsibility to protect these animals," she said.
"We all like beauty and the koala is a beautiful thing. How can we knowingly destroy them; we need to protect them."
The koala is also an umbrella species with two other species - the greater glider and the yellow bellied glider - that are "quietly sliding into extinction".
She said we don't know what other species live in the same habitat as the koala that could be of extreme importance to human survival.
The shadow minister for environment Kate Washington says the coalition should support the formal request to increase legal protections for koalas Australia-wide.
A newly released report commissioned by IFAW has illustrated the dire situation facing koala populations in Queensland following a similar report showing 5000 koalas in NSW could have perished during the recent bushfires.
The 'uplisting' to endangered would apply across state boundaries.
Ms Washington says the state government should throw its support behind the reclassification request and make a submission to the Commonwealth to that effect.
Koala populations were already experiencing a perilous decline in NSW before the recent bushfires.Kate Washington
"Koala populations were already experiencing a perilous decline in NSW before the recent bushfires," the shadow minister said.
"Land clearing has exploded across NSW over the past few years, and over development is pushing this iconic species to the brink.
"Classifying koalas as endangered will accurately reflect the reality of their decline, and strengthen the measures and protections in place to finally turn the situation around.
"The International Fund for Animal Welfare has joined with WWF Australia, the Humane Society International, and the NSW Environment Defenders Office, to highlight the desperate situation facing koalas in NSW and across the country.
"They have been forced to lead this fight because our state and federal governments refuse to take the necessary action."
Ms Washington said the coalition government removed the ability of local koala populations to be uplisted, even if they are edging towards extinction.
"Our koalas are endangered, and they need our help to survive."
The departmental spokesperson said the state government has reconvened the NSW koala strategy independent expert advisory panel and other experts to provide advice on options to support the NSW koala population after the recent bushfires.
The independent NSW threatened species scientific committee is responsible for determining the listing of species.
"DPIE is undertaking an analysis of the impacts of the recent fires across the state, so we can determine where the greatest impacts on wildlife and native vegetation.
"This will assist in delivering a coordinated and targeted response to support recovery efforts, with $44.7 million invested in the NSW Koala Strategy and more than $6.5 million provided by the NSW government to support the wildlife rehabilitation sector."
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