Koalas have experienced declines over large areas of their range even before the effects of the 2019/20 fire season have been taken into account. An analysis of the New South Wales koala population was imperative for the future conservation status of this species.
This report, commissioned by IFAW and prepared by the Biolink research group, is the first comprehensive assessment of changes to the distribution and abundance of koalas as measured across three generations of koalas and culminating in the 2019/20 fire season.
The report quantifies the impacts of recent fire events on koalas in the context of broader population trends across New South Wales over the past three generations of koalas. 6,382 koalas are estimated to have perished in this time, nearly 15% of the population. 62% of the population has been lost over the past three generations. These estimates are considered conservative, as the report only took into account the initial first half of the 2019/20 fire season, and should thus be considered the minimum effect, from which a maximum bound can be calculated.
In addition to population loss and consequent range contraction in western parts of the koala’s range in NSW, and the impacts arising from the 2019/20 fire season, not yet taken into account are the many hundreds of thousands of hectares of otherwise unburnt koala habitat that have additionally been rendered unsuitable for koalas through water-stress leading to leaf-browning and loss of preferred browse species.
With climate change and high-frequency fire only likely to increase, there are significant challenges for the longer-term survival, and for many populations the chances of recovery are unlikely. In fact, considering the species’ low reproductive output and their need for long inter-fire intervals for recovery, the risk of extinction is both immediate and significant for the koala population in the forests and woodlands of NSW.