Koala populations have long been at risk due to several factors, mostly human-related. They were a prime targets for food by Aboriginal hunters, and the 20th century saw an increase in koala hunting as Europeans began to settle in Australia and seek the animals out for their soft, plushy fur. More than 2 million koala pelts were exported from Australia by the year 1924
These days, the little marsupials face different issues, mostly habitat destruction caused by urbanization and agriculture. It’s hard to predict how many koalas are left in Australia; it’s likely somewhere between 50-100,000, but some populations have dwindled as much as 80% in recent years. A new group of koala sightings in areas experts previously thought none existed has given some good news to declining koala populations in other parts of Australia.
The state of New South Wales, which contains a sizable portion of Australia’s total koala habitat, released a report late last year estimating that 36,000 are now living there, which is a hefty decline of 26% in the last three generations of koalas. Usually they live in coastal eucalyptus forests or lowlands a bit farther inland. But several recent sightings in the cooler, plateau region around the town of Bathurst have surprised residents and koala conservationists.
The coastal areas where most koalas have been found have often experienced extreme heat waves and wildfires that kill many of the animals each year due to heat stroke and dehydration, and the problem seems to be getting worse in recent years. So the discovery that koalas do indeed live in the cooler, plateau regions farther inland is good in a couple of ways: not only are there more koalas in the wild than researchers had originally thought, but the fact that they’re able to survive in these cooler, inland regions speaks to the species’ ability to endure in the long term despite increasingly extreme weather conditions in their usual territory.