Feb. 11 (UPI) — The Australian government on Saturday revealed that it had placed koalas on the list for endangered species, upgrading their level of threat from “vulnerable.”
The listing was made after an assessment of five criteria, meeting the threshold for endangered species status because of their rate of population decline, according to a document providing conservation advice from the Australian Department of Agriculture.
However, Koalas did not meet the requirements for endangered species status under the remaining four criteria, including their geographic distribution, population sizes and the number of mature koalas.
A study analyzing the population viability of the species has also not been conducted, officials said.
The document also noted that koalas were not found to be eligible to be listed as an endangered species at a national scale, and are now considered endangered only in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory.
In the document, officials with the Department of Agriculture said that the number of koalas and their distribution has dwindled significantly since European colonization because of the clearing of their habitats, climate change and diseases such as chlamydia.
“In contrast to the Queensland, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory populations, koala populations in the southern part of the species’ range, in Victoria and South Australia, are robust,” the document reads. “In some cases, overpopulation has led to active population control measures being put in place.”
However, officials noted that a recovery plan is required and will be developed to help boost the number of koalas in the affected states and territories.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said in a statement that the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison will work with Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory on the National Recovery plan.
“The impact of prolonged drought, followed by the black summer bushfires, and the cumulative impacts of disease, urbanization and habitat loss over the past twenty years have led to the advice,” Ley said.
The listing comes after the Australian government said last month it planned to spend $35 million to protective the species.
“Koalas are one of Australia’s most loved and best-recognized icons, both here at home and across the world,” Morrison said at the time. “We are committed to protecting them for generations to come.”
Koalas remain listed as a vulnerable species, one step before endangered status on the Red List — a catalog of species at risk of extinction maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The koala population, estimated to sit between 100,000 and 500,000 globally, is decreasing, according to the IUCN.
Research from the Australian Koala Foundation, however, shows that the species should be listed as “critically endangered” with as few as 43,000 left in the wild.