Federal laws needed to protect koala from extinction: Aussie conservationists

The federal government in February officially listed the koala as an endangered species. PHOTO: REUTERS

CANBERRA (XINHUA) - Australian conservationists have called for federal legislation to protect the iconic koala from extinction.

The Australian Koala Foundation has submitted a 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 earlier this month and at least two died during a planned burn in the state's southwest at the start of the month.

The federal government in February officially listed the koala as an endangered species, acknowledging that the iconic marsupial is at risk of becoming extinct after populations were ravaged by bushfires, drought, disease and land-clearing.

However, conservationists argue that the protections offered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 are insufficient to save koala from extinction, calling for dedicated legislation to protect the species.

"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 Foundation's chairman Deborah Tabart told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of the foundation's proposed legislation.

The Foundation disputes government figures on koala populations.

In Victoria, the state government estimates that there are 460,000 of them in eucalypt plantations and forests but the foundation said the actual number is fewer than 24,000.

"The bottom line is our government has said that koalas are endangered and in Victoria and South Australia the hospitals on the ground are still getting injured animals," Ms Tabart said.

"So do we not care about the welfare of this species, even though we're prepared to put it on every single tourism brochure in the whole planet?"

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