Favorite furry friends may soon be endangered

Everyone has his or her favorite – favorite color, favorite food, favorite Spice Girl.

Purple, ice cream and Ginger, in case you were wondering about mine.

Luckily, the human race has yet to wage war on the color purple or the Spice Girls. We have, however, wiped out several species. The next animal to go might be my favorite: the koala.

First things first: Koalas are not bears. They’re marsupials, or pouched mammals. A female koala carries her baby in her pouch for about six months after giving birth. Once the infant emerges, it rides on its mother’s back or clings to her belly, going everywhere she goes until it is 1 year old.

Because a koala’s lifespan hovers around 20 years, the human equivalent would be a child latched to his or her mother for the first four years of life. Mother koalas are certainly tough, if not a little overprotective. That’s just my own approximation, though.

Grown koalas spend most of their time high above the ground, tucked into nooks and forks in eucalyptus trees, snoozing for up to 18 hours a day.

That’s probably why I love them so much: We have similar sleeping preferences.

When they’re not asleep, koalas feed on eucalyptus leaves – 2 ½ pounds (1 kg) a day, to be exact. They average 20 pounds (9kg) in weight, so that’s “Man v. Food”-level eating. And it still isn’t enough. Like squirrels, they store snacks in their cheeks.

Brisbane Times, an online newspaper for Brisbane and Queensland, Australia, reported Tuesday that Queensland’s Environment Minister, Andrew Powell, would not comment on whether he’d been asked to raise the koala’s level of protection from “vulnerable” to “endangered.”

This doesn’t bode well for my furry friends. Government officials typically refuse to talk when they have nothing good to say, at least when it comes to innocuous subjects like animal conservation.

Nearly 16,000 koalas were killed in southeast Queensland between 1997 and 2011 – 1,144 attacked by dogs; 4,055 hit by cars; 3,516 taken by disease; 5,757 dead from a combination of factors and 1,172 from other causes.

These numbers came from a May 2012 conservation assessment conducted by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, which falls under the Australian government’s Department of the Environment. The report also included relevant biology and ecology, a description of threats, regional breakdowns and a recovery plan.

It even described the koala mortality rates in southeast Queensland “unsustainable,” recommending that the species be listed as “vulnerable.”

I don’t know if I should donate to the World Wildlife Fund or wait for an “Adopt a Koala” program to spring up.

What I do know is that I’ll be booking a trip to Oz as soon as I can afford to. (Maybe the year 2054?) I’ve had plenty of purple and ice cream in my life. Now I need to see my favorite animal before it goes the way of the dodo bird.

 

APRIL SHERNISKY

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