The devastating bushfires in Eastern and Southern Australia have harmed many wildlife populations, but koalas took an especially hard hit since the fires happened right in the middle of their only habitat remaining in Australia. While opinions on whether koalas in the wild can be called “functionally extinct” or not differ, it is safe to say that koala population decline did not begin (and will likely not end) with this fire season.
The destruction of their habitat has in the past been the biggest factor in the decimation of koala populations. Another factor is a chlamydia epidemic that has left many koalas infertile and unable to survive in the wild. According to the Koala Base database, the wild koala population in 2019 was anywhere between 43,000 to 100,000, a far cry from the 8 million koalas alive in Australia at the beginning of the last century.
University of Queensland researchers carried out expert interviews in 2012 to estimate the decline of koala populations over six generations in the past and future. According to the research, population decline was most pronounced in Queensland, where more than half of the koala population is expected to be lost over six generations. The effect is less pronounced in South Australia (where fewer koalas live), with a 3 percent decline.