Drought, fires and land clearing have pushed Australia's koalas to the brink of extinction, animal welfare groups warned yesterday.
They urged Australia to classify the marsupial as "endangered" in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory after research revealed a collapse in the koala population.
World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF)-Australia found that, since 2001, the number of koalas in Queensland had fallen by half, while in New South Wales numbers may have declined by up to 61pc.
Drought, deforestation and bush fires - including the devastating fires of 2019-2020 - were the main factors driving the collapse, said Dr Stuart Blanch, a WWF-Australia scientist, who said the situation was "worse than we thought".
"We have gone from [koalas] not being a threatened species to [potentially] being listed as an endangered species on the east coast within a decade - I would never have thought that was possible. I never thought we would be losing them so quickly," he said.
Raising the threat level to endangered would increase the protection for forests where koalas live and mobilise funding. "Koalas are the canaries of our forests. If we lose koalas, it means our forests are disappearing as well," warned Dr Blanch.