June 30, 2020 / 7:16 AM / 12 days ago

Koalas may be extinct in Australia's New South Wales by 2050

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Koalas in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) could become extinct by 2050 unless the government immediately intervenes to protect them and their habitat, a parliamentary inquiry determined after a year-long inquiry.

Land clearing for agriculture, urban development, mining and forestry had been the biggest factor in the fragmentation and loss of habitat for the animals in NSW, the country’s most populous state, over several decades.

A prolonged, drought-fuelled bushfire season that ended early this year was also devastating for the animals, destroying about a quarter of their habitat across the state, and in some parts up to 81%.

“The evidence could not be more stark,” the inquiry’s 311-page final report said on Tuesday.

“The only way our children’s grandchildren will see a koala in the wild in NSW will be if the government acts upon the committee’s recommendations.”

The report, commissioned by a multi-party parliamentary committee, makes 42 recommendations, including an urgent census, prioritising the protection of the animal in the planning of urban development, and increasing conservation funding.

But it stopped short of unanimously recommending a moratorium on logging in public native forests, it said.

FILE PHOTO: WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo curatorial supervisor and zookeeper Renee Howell poses for a picture beside koalas in an enclosure during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Stefica Nicol Bikes/File Photo

Stuart Blanch, manager of land clearing and restoration at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia, called on the government to heed the recommendations and strengthen protections for the animals’ habitat.

“WWF calls on the NSW Premier to rewrite weak land clearing laws to protect koala habitat, greatly increase funding for farmers who actively conserve trees where koalas live, and a transition out of logging koala forests and into plantations.” Blanch said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Gladys Berejiklian, the state premier, said the government would consider the report and respond “in due course”, adding it had already committed A$44 million ($30.14 million) on a strategy to protect the animals.

Reporting by Paulina Duran and Cordelia Hsu in Sydney; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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