“They’re warm and cuddly. They’re not like Kangaroos.”
-Mike Pengilly, Mayor Kangaroo Island.

For the last several weeks, I debated what my next blog post would be. Would I write part 2 of my koala blog or focus on another endangered endemic Australian animal? The answer became clear after some activities about koalas and their fate in the last couple of weeks— I need to discuss them and their dangers. These endangered animals face many challenges, such as climate change, brushfires, and disease. However, it is safe to say that none of these are as detrimental to their survival as people. My newsfeed has been filled with horror stories of things people continue to do to these helpless animals that I am unable to keep up with and remain as informed as I need to be to write this book. Human greed continues to infringe upon their habitat, and as a result of land clearing, not only do they lose their homes and food sources, but many lose their lives as a result of vehicle strikes and dog attacks.

As mentioned in an earlier post, koalas are cherished by people from around the world, but for a reason that remains unclear to me, Australians view them as pests and refer to them as degrading things as “tree rats.” Rather than do everything in its power to protect these iconic animals, the Australian government seems hellbent on destroying their homes and aiding in their extinction. Somewhere along the line, humans got the notion that they were the superior animal on the planet. Therefore, every other animal was here for their use, and any species that could not be useful to them should be eliminated. However, research has demonstrated that contrary to previous beliefs, animals have “human-like” characteristics, most notably the ability to form social bonds and mourn their community members. In light of these findings, humans owe it to these creatures to protect them and their environments.

Australia is notorious for its unpredictable weather, from droughts to flash floods. Extreme heat and dryness have been part of the Australian landscape since the first English colonists arrived in 1788. Many Australian native animals have learned to adapt to these conditions; for example, the gum trees that koalas eat typically provide them with the water they need to survive. Unfortunately, due to climate change, the circumstances under which these animals have adapted are changing faster than their bodies can adjust, and the species now experience problems. For example, koalas do not like heat, and they face heat stress and death with temperatures over 104 F (40 C) for prolonged periods (Koala Conservation Australia, n.d. Disastrously, according to the Australian government’s records, every decade since 1950 has been warmer than the previous year. More alarmingly, the period between 2011-2020 was the hottest recorded, and 2019, 2020, and 2023 all recorded continuous days with temperatures over 40 degrees (Extreme Weather).

Not only are these rising temperatures brutal for koalas, but they also contribute to the severity and frequency of the brush fires. Brush fires are as common in Australia as its extreme weather patterns, but because of climate change, they have become more numerous, frequent, and more severe. The peak of brush fire season usually begins in August and lasts approximately 24 weeks. The summer of 2019/2020 is known as “Black Summer” in Australia because of the brutal fires that burned the country from August 2019 until February 2020. The fires followed a three-year drought, and when the much-needed rain contained the final fire, 10.3 million hectares of primarily temperate forests had been destroyed, causing more than 10 billion dollars of economic damage and killing or injuring 3 billion animals, of which 60,000 were koalas. (WWF Australia, 2020). The most concerning element is that environmental experts argue that as devastating as these fires were, they may be only a precursor. “Whatever records the 2019-20 Australian fire season set may not last long, given the continuing effects of climate change” (Penman et al., 2021). Experts estimate that Australia lost as much as 15% of the koala population during those fires. It is safe to say that it cannot afford to lose another 15% when the following fires come around, and sadly, it is more likely than not that Australia will face another fire season comparable to the fires of 2019-20. In the meantime, instead of passing legislation that will protect the animals that remain, they continue to encourage policy (primarily land clearing) that furthers the demise of these icons.


I have saved the most significant and, quite honestly, most aggravating threat to koalas for last—land clearing. After the Black Summer fires in 2019/2020, the governments of New South Wales, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory finally listed koalas as endangered. Nevertheless, as a friend and fellow koala advocate stated, “You would have to be an octopus to effectively track all the threats the state governments pose against the koala. For example, recent reports in Brisbane (Queensland) indicate that government officials approved a plan to bulldoze a “koala habit” forest to build a new car park at the Brisbane hospital. People complained about the lack of parking at the hospital, so the government’s solution was to bulldoze koala homes (Dahlstrom, 2024). If it were not bad enough that the government placed the needs of humans above those of the endangered iconic koala, they did so when another less disruptive solution was possible. There are currently two open-air car parks, and developers could convert one or both into multi-story spaces, but instead, the government chooses to assist with the needless demise of the koala. This latest action is a recent example of Australia’s blatant disregard for these iconic animals. It begs the question of why the government even bothered to classify these animals as endangered if it allowed these types of activities to continue.

As if the latest threat to the koalas in Queensland were not bad enough, newly revealed actions against landowners Kiland Ltd in the blue gum plantations in Kangaroo Island (Victoria) are even more disturbing. Eighty percent of Kangaroo Island’s koalas perished in the 2018/2020 fires, and Hollywood stars raised millions to save them, and now, four years later, the remaining population faces a threat due to logging (Reason, 2024). Although the Victorian government still refuses to classify koalas as endangered, they have guidelines to protect the wildlife. For example, harvesters are supposed to retain trees where koalas are spotted and eight adjacent trees. Nevertheless, whistleblowers admitted that employees did not follow the protocols. As a result, more than forty koalas experienced injuries ranging from broken arms and hips to jaws and even skulls. The injured koalas received care at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Network, a volunteer organization that rescues and rehabilitates sick and injured animals. Katie Welz, the network president, confirmed that they had to euthanize 21 koalas because of their injuries. Additionally, Weltz confirmed that their organization treats orphaned, injured, displaced, and killed koalas as a result of logging weekly. They are frustrated by the lack of support from the government (Clarke & Morton, 2024).

Koalas are not native to Kangaroo Island but were introduced more than a century ago when people feared for their existence on mainland Australia. Before the 2018 bushfires, they managed to thrive in the area, so much so that many locals consider them “pests.” Mike Pengilly, the mayor of Kangaroo Island, even suggested euthanasia as the most human method to address the “overabundance “of koalas, which he claimed were problematic to the natural landscape (overgrazing of trees) and landowners. They’re warm and cuddly. They’re not like kangaroos. Nevertheless, I actually seriously think it is the only option (Dahlstrom, 2024). In this short statement, he blatantly disregards not one but two of Australia’s iconic animals. With regard to the incidents in question, the mayor downplayed them and claimed that the issue had “been blown out of proportion” (Dahlstrom, 2024). What is even more maddening is the blatant hypocrisy demonstrated by members of the government with regard to its native animals. In the same news cycle that exposed the atrocities on Kangaroo Island, another story emerged about world leaders getting up and personal with koalas at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This has been a consistent theme for Australian politicians. They refuse to protect their animals; they refer to them with derogatory language among themselves but are the first to use these animals as pawns or toys for the rest of the world. It is a hypocrisy not unnoticed by animal and wildlife experts and lovers. The fact that government officials must display animals like koalas indicates the interest and desire others worldwide have in these animals. It demonstrates the appreciation foreigners have for them, and it should be a clear sign to Australians that these animals are unique and should be protected, NOT culled or euthanized. Plant more instead of euthanizing koalas because of overgrazing on the existing trees. Expand upon the existing ones rather than destroying koala trees to build a parking structure. Political leaders think it is an us/them scenario, which does not have to be the case. With planning and open-mindedness, creating a world where humans and animals can coexist is feasible. Regrettably, climate change and its challenges are ongoing without an immediate solution. Luckily, humans can make changes, such as more wildlife-friendly land-clearing policies and investing in vaccinations and treatments for diseases, with the willingness to do so.

The rest of the world depends on Australia to do the right thing to protect these animals while there is still time. I am not suggesting that every Australian is indifferent to its wildlife and wants to see it eliminated. I need to remind people only about the story of Lewis the Koala to demonstrate that. For those outside the koala or wildlife world, Lewis was a koala who perished in the 2019 bushfire. A kindhearted woman, Toni Doherty, saw the koala burning in the fires in New South Wales, and she took the shirt off her own back, ran into the fire to grab the koala, wrapped him in her shirt, and rushed him to the hospital. Unfortunately, Lewis, as he was named, died from his injuries, but thanks to the heroic efforts of Doherty, Lewis had a chance. Australia needs more people like her and fewer people who view them as a nuisance.

I will leave with one final link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7V00K28X3E) —this video has been circulating on social media for the past few weeks. Rescuers received a call about an injured female koala, and when they arrived, they witnessed a male koala hovering and mourning the loss of his mate. This video is heartbreaking but clearly illustrates that animals have human-like traits and mourn the loss of loved ones. Hopefully, if people see more images like this, they will not be so quick to kill them or destroy their habitat. These animals face threats to existence because of the actions of humans. They cannot speak for themselves, and we have the power and the responsibility to fight for survival. Stay tuned next month where I discuss another endangered native Australian animal.