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VERIFY: Are koalas really ‘functionally extinct’ after Australian Fires

Social media and international publications have made the claims recently. We go behind the headlines to find out if it’s really true.

ATLANTA — The koala bear population has taken a hit with the recent brush fires in Australia. Experts estimate between 350-1,000 koalas have been killed. The slow-moving marsupials can’t get out of the way of wind-driven blaze.

Their natural instinct is to climb to the top of Eucalyptus trees, their natural home, and try to wait out the fires. However, flames from these brush fires are burning so high and hot the bears can’t escape.

Koalas have long been labeled ‘vulnerable to extinction.’ However, that is different from being ‘functionally extinct.’

Functionally extinct definition

  • A species has so few members that it can no longer make enough babies to replenish its population

**Source: Endangered Species Act and International Union for Conservation of Natural and Natural Resources’ Red List

As of the last count in 2016, koalas had a population of more than 300,000. Experts say that’s enough to replenish the population and not put it in jeopardy.


As for the other claims that most of the koalas habitat has been destroyed, that also seems untrue. Australian officials say between 1 and 2.5 million hectares of koala habitat have been burned. However, the koala’s natural range is more than 100 million hectares. The percent scorched is less than five percent.

Koalas habitat is endangered by development and wildfires. They have government protection in Australia but most of their habitat is not designated as a protected area.

CLAIM: Koalas are ‘functionally extinct’

This claim is FALSE.

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