CANBERRA • Australian conservationists have called for federal legislation to protect the iconic koala from extinction.
The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) has submitted proposed legislation to new Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek that would make it illegal to interfere with koala habitats unless for a proven "benign" activity.
It comes after two separate incidents where koalas were likely killed by humans. Thirteen koalas were found dead in "unusual" circumstances at a blue gum plantation in Western Victoria and at least two perished during a planned burn in the state's south-west earlier this month.
The federal government in February officially listed the koala as endangered, acknowledging that the iconic marsupial is at risk of extinction after populations were ravaged by bushfires, drought, disease and land-clearing.
However, conservationists argue that the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999, is insufficient to save koalas from extinction.
On the AKF's proposed legislation, chair Deborah Tabart told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): "The Act automatically says, 'If this is koala habitat, then you can't touch it', and the only way you can touch it is if you prove that your activity is benign, which I think if you are a responsible industry you could do."
The AKF disputes government figures on koala populations. In Victoria, the state government estimates that there are 460,000 koalas in eucalyptus plantations and forests, but the foundation said the actual number is fewer than 24,000.
"So do we not care about the welfare of this species," said Ms Tabart, "even though we're prepared to put it on every single tourism brochure in the whole planet?"