Australia's Koala population that experts guesstimate is between 43, 000 and 300,000 is dropping, with road deaths the second highest cause, and lawmakers urged building tunnels and lowering speed limits to protect the country's favorite marsupials.
On Thursday, an inquiry committee in the upper house Senate recommended state and national governments act now to protect koalas -- before the famous, furry internationally recognized marsupial symbol becomes a threatened species officially, Reuters reported, quoting acting chairman Doug Cameron cautioning, "that to have such a significant Australian icon included on the threatened species list would be national shame."
The inquiry into the Status, Health and Sustainability of the Koala Population also found the biggest cause of koala decline has been steady loss of habitat from land clearing, especially the loss of Eucalyptus trees (or gum trees), because the animal feeds on its leaves nearly exclusively, with an AIDS-like virus that causes cancer and immune deficiency the third biggest risk.
In the north-eastern Queensland state alone, according to the report, more than 4,500 koalas were reported road killed between 1997 and 2009, before the government committed to designing and constructing "koala-friendly" main roads, installing tunnels and taking the extra precaution of putting up koala-proof-fences along the most densely populated stretches.
This yawning koala in the Koala Park Sanctuary in Sidney, Australia might soon be napping.
Lowering speed limits on roads that pass through known koala areas, building more bridges and tunnels to allow safe crossings and installing special fencing along busy roads that pass through koala-dense regions would reduce koala deaths significantly, the Senate inquiry concluded.
The report listed several additional recommendations for saving koalas, including more funding and research, habitat mapping and state and national cooperation that brings many organizations together developing and implementing a comprehensive koala conservation strategy.