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Koalas face bleak future due to disease, bushfires

China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-20 09:22

A rescued koala is treated for cataracts while under anesthesia at the Eye Clinic For Animals in Sydney in July. LOREN ELLIOTT/REUTERS

KANANGRA-BOYD NATIONAL PARK, Australia-At work, Morgan Philpott cares for sick children. In his off-hours, the Australian pediatric nurse turns his attention to an equally defenseless group: unwell koalas.

"They really run the risk of becoming extinct inside our lifetime," Philpott said of the New South Wales koala population at an animal hospital on Sydney's outskirts while helping a veterinarian treat a rescued koala infected with the bacterial disease chlamydia.

The pervasive infection among the koalas, blazing bushfires, drought, logging of forests, and urban encroachment of their habitat are some of the many destructive forces that continue to threaten their survival.

These forces, a government report warned in June, could make Australia's symbolic animal extinct in New South Wales-the nation's most populous state-by 2050.

"If the areas that didn't burn last year burn this year, that would really be catastrophic" for the koalas, said Philpott, who joined the country's biggest animal rescue agency, Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service.

The country's worst summer of bushfires in a generation razed more than 11.2 million hectares, nearly half the area of the United Kingdom, thrusting the gray, tree-hugging marsupials into the center of the national conversation and a hot political issue.

In New South Wales, at least 5,000 koalas were killed in the fires that burned 80 percent of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and 24 percent of koala habitat on public land, the government's June report said.

New state laws

As another summer looms, koalas face the threat of more bushfires, although weather forecasters expect a wetter, cooler few months than in the previous year.

New state laws have sought to limit the ability of farmers to clear land deemed important for koala habitat, setting off a political brawl between urban conservationists and people in the bush who wanted to manage their own property.

"The rate of tree-clearing and loss of habitats (are) behind all of the other factors that threaten them in those developed areas which include domestic dog attacks and vehicle strikes," said Kellie Leigh, head of Science for Wildlife, a nonprofit conservation organization, before releasing a koala mother and its joey onto a charred tree sprouting green shoots in the Kanangra-Boyd National Park, about 200 kilometers west of Sydney.

Agencies via Xinhua

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