Short summary: A Koala population in New South Wales has been severely impacted by fires with loss of perhaps 70%, at least 350 of them killed, and it could be more, leading to headlines of "1000 koalas killed". However there is no way even this population is functionally extinct (i.e. can't produce a new generation). It will recover again, not immediately but in a couple of decades. A koala population can triple in population in 12 years. It depends on eucalyptus leaves and those trees have died, but the eucalyptus grows quickly too.

The IUCN red list say there are around 300,000 in the wild (between 100,000 and 500,000). The Australian Koala Foundation says there may be less than 80,000 but they are counting them differently, ignoring small populations that may be inbred. They say that their number is the number of genetically healthy (not inbred) Koalas capable of long term sustainability. Their number is controversial (they say so themselves).

Functionally extinct can mean they can’t produce a new generation. There is no way that those 300,000 koalas can’t produce a new generation. Indeed in some places such as Adelaide Hills, and Kangaroo Island, there are too many and contraceptives are used to keep the population lower to preserve the natural bushland.

Another meaning of it is that it is doomed in the long term because of lack of genetic diversity. This seems to be what they mean, but koala researchers don’t agree with them:

Some local populations of koalas are indeed heading towards functional extinction, says Adams-Hosking. “But Australia is a big country, there are koalas all over the place and some of them are doing fine,” she says. “You can’t just make that statement broad-brush.” Adams-Hoskins also questions the AKF’s claim that just 80,000 koalas remain. In 2016, she and colleagues estimated that there are around 300,000.

No, koalas are not 'functionally extinct', but they are in trouble

There's lots can be done to help reduce fires, and their impact on koalas. With climate change the population is expected to contract southwards and eastwards, inland forests become drier and this makes it more important to protect moister forests near the coast which are under pressure from urban development. With a warmer planet then there would also be new habitats for them in Tasmania and south-western Australia.

See also my previous

This is another article I'm writing to support people we help in the Facebook Doomsday Debunked group, that find us because they get scared, sometimes to the point of feeling suicidal, by such stories.

Do share this with your friends if you find it useful, as they may be panicking too.

Details: Debunking this article in Forbes magazine: Koalas ‘Functionally Extinct’ After Australia Bushfires Destroy 80% Of Their Habitat

Traced it back to this story that 60 to 70 percent of the breeding population, about 350 koalas, may have been lost in habitats surrounding Rappville, Wardell, Port Macquarie, and Forster in New South Wales. The trees will grow again but it may take ten or 20 years for the koalas to recover because they are slow breeders..

Ms Flanagan said it was likely at least 350 koalas had died, based on the overall size of the current fire footprint, which is two-thirds of the koala habitat, and a 60 per cent mortality rate.


Stephen Phillips said thousands of hectares of key koala habitat had been lost in recent fires around Rappville, Wardell, Port Macquarie, and Forster.

Dr Phillips said it was likely 60 to 70 per cent of the breeding populations in those areas had perished.

"You're left with a very small group that survive," he said.

"They've got to re-establish themselves, the food trees have got to grow and recover, and then those animals have got to start breeding to repopulate those areas of empty habitat from which animals have been lost.

"Koalas are not fast breeders, they're very slow breeders."

He said the recovery process could take decades.

"It has certainly set the general recovery objectives of conservation back a long time, probably 10 to 20 years in some instances depending on the scale of the impact," Dr Phillips said.

Hundreds of koalas feared dead in bushfires south of Port Macquarie

They are talking there about the population recovering in that particular area in 10 to 20 years.


This is the IUCN summary for the Koala (they are regarded as authoritative on extinction risks)

Current threats to this species include continued habitat destruction, fragmentation, and modification (which makes them vulnerable to predation by dogs, vehicle strikes, and other factors), bushfires, and disease, as well as drought associated mortality in habitat fragments. Public concern for the species is high. There are management problems with many populations; remnant populations living at high densities in isolated patches of habitat are at greatest risk (Martin et al. 2008). Effective management of some of the threats on the mainland could lead to excessive abundance and result in pest problems similar to those occurring on Kangaroo Island and in parts of Victoria.

The overall distribution of Koalas has been reduced since European settlement. This decline was primarily due to disease, bushfires, and widespread habitat destruction in the early decades of the 20th century. Commercial harvesting also took place across the range towards the end of the 19th century and early 20th century (large numbers, running into the millions, were killed for their pelts for a large export industry in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland). This was banned in Victoria in the 1890s, and it continued sporadically (and under regulation) in Queensland until 1927 (Hrdina and Gordon 2004). There is no evidence, however, that the early spate of commercial harvesting had any long-term impact on the overall population. Climate change is likely to have severe consequences for this species (Adams-Hosking et al. 2011a,b, 2012).. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

To expand on the sentence:

Effective management of some of the threats on the mainland could lead to excessive abundance and result in pest problems similar to those occurring on Kangaroo Island and in parts of Victoria.

In some places they are over abundant and contraceptives are used to control them, for instance in Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island. Making koala numbers more bearable

As of May 2019:

Latest surveys estimate there to be about 150,000 koalas in the Mt Lofty Ranges, with the contraceptive to reduce breeding and reduce the population without harming the animals.

Contraception of prepubertal young can increase cost effectiveness of management of overabundant koala populations

To expand on the sentence

. Climate change is likely to have severe consequences for this species (Adams-Hosking et al. 2011a,b, 2012).

In a warmer world, t hey are expected to contract eastwards and southwards and they may also find new habitats in Tasmania and south-western Australia. The drier cconditions will likely lead to signfiicant contractions, but it's not talking about extinction. They talk about the need to protect moist (mesic) habitats which tend to be more under threat from urban development than the drier inland habitats which may become too dry for the koalas in a warming world.

Under realistic projected future climate change, with the climate becoming increasingly drier and warmer, the models showed a significant progressive eastward and southward contraction in the koala’s climate envelope limit in Queensland, New South Wales andVictoria. The models also indicated novel potentially suitable climate habitat in Tasmania and south-western Australia

Under a future hotter and drier climate, current koala distributions, based on their climate envelope, will likely contract eastwards and southwards to many regions where koala populations are declining due to additional threats of high human population densities and ongoing pressures from habitat loss, dog attacks and vehicle collisions. In arid and semi-arid regions such as the Mulga lands of south-western Queensland, climate change is likely to compound the impacts of habitat loss, resulting in significant contractions in the distribution of this species.

Modelling climate-change-induced shifts in the distributionof the koala

Koalas climb trees and curl into a ball to survive a fire, which works for low intensity fires. Some more details in NY Times article.

Saving the Fire Victims Who Cannot Flee: Australia’s Koalas

This is one of them trying to escape from the fire, and rescued by a lady in a story that went viral, it is doing well but might not be able to return to the wild if too much injured - if so would join the captive breeding program:

(click to watch on Youtube)

More video of the rescue

(click to watch on Youtube)

They use koala sniffing dogs to help find them after fires.

(click to watch on Youtube)

Prescribed burning makes a big difference for the first five years after a fire, and a measurable effect up to 20 years. Roads help as fire breaks, and alternatively as a kind of long fuse letting fires spread from one place to another, so, reducing the fuel load along roads is one way to help.


There are around 80,000 in the wild and the IUCN red list classifies them as vulnerable in the wild. They live in Eastern Australia:

Koalas - IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

My previous debunk still applies. 350 dead out of 80,000 is not a huge amount from the total population though of course it's very significant locally.

That 80,000 is the estimate by the Australian Koala Foundation who are discounting some of the populations. They write:

The AKF believes that the national wild Koala population could be less than 80,000, a far cry from the millions which were shot in the early part of the last century for their fur.

The AKF is often criticised for the numbers allocated to Victoria and South Australia. Our critics suggest that there are hundreds of thousands of Koalas in Victoria. The AKF does not agree. Although we acknowledge that there may be some isolated habitats or islands that have large numbers (sometimes in the 1,000s), we believe these populations cannot be considered to have long term viability because of their inbred status. Some studies suggest that these animals are already showing symptoms of inbreeding. The population figures we suggest reflect our view that these numbers are for genetically healthy Koalas capable of long term sustainability.

Australian Koala Foundation

Another estimate made the total population of 329,000 (range 144,000 to 605,000) in 2016.

The IUCN red list says 300,000 (between 100,000 and 500,000)

Either way there are still tens of thousands in the wild, possibly hundreds of thousands, and it’s local populations that are at risk not the population as a whole.

The koala is borderline between vulnerable and near threatened in the IUCN red list.

Local populations like this one can increase in population again. Each female koala will have up to six offspring in their twelve year lifespan.

So - once the trees grow back it wouldn't take that many years for a population to recover after a 70% loss of population. That means the population can triple in twelve years in optimal conditions if all the babies survive. So you are talking about a decade or two for recovery, after a 70% loss but it of course also depends on how fast the eucalyptus grows back.

The eucalyptus achievses about 60 percent of its growth in ten years.

Eucalyptus Tree Care – Tips On Growing Eucalyptus

I’m not sure how that relates to the number of koalas as younger eucalyptus would grow faster and may even be more nourishing for koalas than older ones.

Anyway it fits with the 10 or 20 years recovery time for koalas.

The Red List project a reduction of about 29% in three generations, with considerable variation over fifteen Koala experts and say they are borderline between “near threatened” and “Vulnerable” and listed them as vulnerable as a precautionary measure, details here under “Assessment information”

This is my earlier post with the background to why it was called “functionally extinct” because of a small local population.

No, Koalas are not ‘functionally extinct’

They will never go extinct, because they are easy to reproduce in captivity. There are some declining local populations. This is a set back for one of those local populations. The fire risk can be managed - fires more likely due to global warming - but you can reduce the risk of fire with controlled burns.

It can sometimes be politically hard to do that because there is a local impact on the forests for a few years until the forests grow back, so there’s a tendency for local authorities to do less burning than is prescribed, but it’s needed to stop larger fires later on.

This is how they do a prescribed fire in Australia:

However controlled burns can go out of control, the weather and conditions have to be right for three or four days after a controlled burn, so they are often put off because the weather isn’t right, sometimes for years.

Also they have less effect in very dry conditions and global warming is leading to more drought and drier conditions, so they are having to develop new practices to cope with the changing climate. A bit about all that here

This video gives an idea of how the controlled burns are managed (though it’s a different area of Australia, koalas are in Eastern Australia, this is South West Australia)

(click to watch on Youtube)

Prescribed burning videos

In the regions with distinct seasons, prescribed burning takes place in spring and autumn when conditions are cooler, vegetation and fuel moisture levels are higher and weather conditions are more stable.

In regions with wet and dry seasons, such as the Kimberley, burning is conducted from January to June (wet to early dry season), when winds are predictable and the ground vegetation is not fully cured, and fires tend to be relatively low intensity, patchy and limited in extent. Also night conditions are conducive to fires extinguishing. The section on fuel loads and fire intensity has more information about burning in different seasons

Prescribed burning


For my articles about the positive side of what we are doing and can do, see my:


If you are scared: Seven tips for dealing with doomsday fears which also talks about health professionals and how they can help.

If in the middle of a panic attack, see


Tip, bookmark those links to search for debunks more easily. Here is a screenshot of my bookmarks


Facebook group Doomsday Debunked has been set up to help anyone who is scared by these fake doomsdays.

Wiki Doomsday debunked wiki


Do message me on Quora or PM me on Facebook if you need help.

There are many others in the group who are available to support scared people via PM and who can also debunk fake Doomsday “news” for you if you get scared of a story and are not sure if it is true. See our debunkers list

If you are suicidal don’t forget there’s always help a phone call away with the List of suicide crisis lines - Wikipedia