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'Australia's Orangutan': Urgent Calls To Protect The Vulnerable Koala

Australia's koala population is facing the very real threat of extinction similar to that of orangutans in south-east Asia.  

That's the warning from the president of the World Wildlife Fund International who has called for "immediate" action to protect Australia's koalas and other wildlife amid "worsening" deforestation levels.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday, WWF President Pavan Sukhdev said the international community was watching as the country's koala population continues to be decimated through habitat loss.

It's a similar path to that of endangered orangutans that has "come to represent the destruction of rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra".

Orangutans are critically endangered as their forest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia rapidly disappears. Image: AAP

"People around the world are drawing parallels to the koala, which is also heading towards extinction because of rampant deforestation," he wrote.

Sukhdev is visiting Australia following the release of a WWF report that found the country's koala population -- currently listed as vulnerable to extinction -- is declining by 21 percent, per decade.

The report also put Australia on its list of 11 hot spots where global deforestation is projected to occur by 2030.

"I  was alarmed to find that Australia is on that list -- the only developed nation listed -- and that is also has the highest rates of mammalian extinction in the world."

According to Sukhdev, there is a direct correlation between the two.

Of most concern is the koala population in NSW --  which now sits at an estimated 20,000 -- a decline from an historic estimation in the millions.

Available scientific and government sources suggest the animal is facing extinction in the state by as early as 2050.

Sukhdev said tree clearing is the major driver following the repeal of the Native Vegetation Act in 2017 that put seven million hectares of koala habitat at risk of clearing.

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The plight of koalas in NSW is of highest concern. Image: AAP

"Seventeen of the state's 20 deforestation hotspots contain koala habitat at risk of tree clearing under new state environmental laws," he said.

The WWF boss is calling on both the NSW and federal governments to pass legislation halting the rate of tree clearing to prevent the extinction of the koala in NSW.

He also pressed for urgent action to address the recent mass fish deaths in the Murray-Darling Basins -- that he claims is due to excess water extraction -- as well as coral bleaching and farm run-off polluting the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian government has responded to WWF's letter, with a spokesperson for the Minister for the Environment saying, "The Government is absolutely committed to protecting our threatened species, and is currently leading the development of a national recovery plan for the listed koala in collaboration with the relevant range states – QLD, NSW and the ACT.

"Recovery plans developed under the EPBC Act set out the research and management actions necessary to stop the decline, and support the recovery, of a listed species."

The government adds that the draft koala recovery plan will be released for the statutory three-month public consultation period in mid-2019 with the plan to be finalised by the end of the year.

The spokesperson also said state governments have primary carriage of planning and development decisions within their jurisdiction, including for land clearing.

Featured image: Getty

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au