"My decision to list the koala under national environment law follows a rigorous scientific assessment by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee which gathered information from a variety of experts over the past three years," said Environment Minister Tony Burke in a press release
"We're talking about a species that is not only iconic in Australia, but is known worldwide, a species that has taken a massive hit over the last 20 years and we can't wait any longer before we turn the corner when the scientists are telling us the evidence is in," Burke said.
No-one knows the current size of the koala population -- estimates vary from several hundred thousand to as few as 43,000, according to the BBC
's Phil Mercer.
What we do know is that koala populations are "under serious threat from habitat loss and urban expansion, as well as vehicle strikes, dog attacks, and disease," Burke said.
For example, koalas' forest habitats –– which provide them with the eucalyptus leaves that sustain them and the limbs that cradle them( for up to 20 hours a day of sleep)–– are being cleared for development or cultivation, and cars and domestic dogs pose a threat to the animals when they wander at night.
In the north-eastern Queensland state, authorities reported more than 4,500 koalas were hit by cars over 12 years to 2009, according to Reuters
But not all parts of Australia will be affected by the listing.
"In fact, in some areas in Victoria and South Australia," koalas are thriving, Burke said.
He added: "But the Queensland, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory koala populations are very clearly in trouble, so we must take action."
"That is why the scientific committee recommended to me to list the Queensland, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory populations as threatened, rather than to list the koala as nationally threatened across its full range."
Deborah Tabart from the non-profit Australian Koala Foundation disagrees. She told the BBC that there should be blanket protection for koalas in the country, since "the koala is such an important tourist icon and such an important symbol to Australia".
"The joke is the koala brings in A$2.5bn (US$ 1.75bn) in tourist dollars," she told the BBC in 2004
. "This country rides on tourism and the koalas are the number one animal people want to see."