The Koala - Endangered or Not?


In April 2012, the Australian Government declared the Koala as ‘VULNERABLE” across the entire state. Upon receiving advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Council, Minister Tony Burke listed the Koala as a threatened species under the EPBC Act. Research conducted by the AKF strongly suggests the Koala’s conservation status should be upgraded to “CRITICALLY ENDANGERED” in the South East Queensland Bioregion.

Koalas are in serious decline suffering from the effects of habitat destruction, domestic dog attacks, bushfires and road accidents. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there are less than 100,000 Koalas left in the wild, possibly as few as 43,000. You can see how we determined those figures here.

There is arguably no legislation that effectively and/or consistently protects Koala habitat anywhere within Australia, not necessarily because the legislation does not exist, but because there is not always the political will to adequately resource, implement, police and enforce such legislation.

There are four states where Koalas occur in the wild---Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia---and each state has its own legislation (see below).

The Federal Government passes responsibility for protection of Koala habitat to the states. The states often pass principal responsibility to local government. Local government is where most day to day decisions are made about what happens to Koala habitat but where there is often the least amount of resources and expertise in wildlife management or habitat assessment.

It is important to note that the Koala’s status as ‘Common’ in a particular area does not necessarily mean that Koalas are indeed common in that area (as in Queensland and Victoria - see below). If the Koala is to be conserved, legislation must be strengthened for the protection of habitat throughout its range. Following are the current official state government listings for the Koala, the Federal Government’s current position and the IUCN and other international listings.




With a change of government, in August 1996, the new government advised the AKF in writing that it intended to upgrade the Koala’s listing to ‘Vulnerable’ by the end of 1996. This did not happen.

In May 1998, the Queensland Premier advised the AKF that it was proposed to add a class of wildlife called "management dependent wildlife" to the Nature Conservation Act 1992. He indicated that the Koala was expected to be scheduled in this new class of protected wildlife.

In September 2003, the Australian Koala Foundation and other Koala scientists were invited to make submissions to the Queensland Government and the Scientific Advisory Committee concerning the current status of Koalas in Queensland. The AKF nomination recommended that Koalas be immediately listed as ‘Vulnerable’ throughout the South East Queensland bio-region, and that consideration be given to listing Koalas throughout Queensland on precautionary principles. (A precautionary approach entails caution, or care-taking, anticipatory action to prevent harm, even if the cause and effect are not fully established scientifically at that time.) Failing the latter, it was recommended that the conservation status of Koala populations in other key bio-regions be assessed as a matter of urgent priority.

In March 2004, the Queensland Government upgraded the Koala's conservation status from 'Common' to ‘VULNERABLE’ throughout the South East Queensland bio-region, under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. This area stretches from Gladstone, south to the Queensland/New South Wales border and as far west as Toowoomba. The decision was based on evidence supplied to the Scientific Advisory Committee, including: Koala mortality rates; rates of habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation; Koala population estimates; modelled Koala population decline and extinction risks; and projected human population growth. Among other things, the upgrade from ‘Common’ to ‘VULNERABLE’ should afford Koalas in the South East Queensland Bioregion a higher level of protection from habitat clearing and other threatening processes than was previously the case. 

Koalas across the remainder of the state are now listed as 'VULNERBALE'. In parts of South East Queensland, the decline of Koala habitat is of major concern e.g. as a result of clearing and deterioration of Poplar Box woodlands. Many Koala populations are thought to have disappeared or to be in serious decline. Often members of the public are surprised to learn that the precautionary approach is not taken in practice by authorities. If the precautionary principle were followed, a population might be considered under threat until demonstrated to be common. Instead, it is presumed to be common unless proven otherwise. Scientific studies of status are not undertaken for all species. They are only undertaken for a small minority. The collection and interpretation of sufficient data requires considerable resources. Public perceptions and political will also play a role in whether or not applications are successful.

Click here for more information about the 'Vulnerable' listing.




The NSW Government first listed the Koala as ‘Rare and Vulnerable’ in 1992 and this status was later reaffirmed as ‘VULNERABLE’ within the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. In recognition of the continuing decline of Koalas and Koala habitat in NSW, in early 1995, the NSW Government introduced State Environment Planning Policy No 44 - Koala Habitat Protection (SEPP 44). This is the first state-wide species-specific planning policy introduced by any government in Australia.




The Koala is not on the official Threatened Species list in Victoria and therefore the state government is not prompted to make any hard management decisions. Some islands and some isolated Victorian mainland habitats have so-called ‘overpopulation’ problems. These are predominantly on small offshore islands that fall outside of the Koala’s natural range (ie the area inhabited by Koalas before white settlers arrived) and in isolated, inbred populations on the mainland. Koalas were deliberately introduced to these islands and then re-introduced to mainland areas where original populations had disappeared, in large part due to the fur trade. In Victoria, the shifting of Koalas to different areas began 80 years ago and continues up to the present day. These actions have created unusual 'zoo' like situations which, among other things, support populations with reduced genetic diversity and vigour. Land use, management and ecological histories are highly complicated at these locations and although factors such as edge effects, insect attack, weed spread and salinity affect forest health, Koalas are often solely accused of causing dieback through ‘over browsing’.

Unfortunately, Koalas on mainland Victoria face the same problems as those inhabiting other parts of Australia (eg habitat destruction, deterioration, fragmentation, dog attacks, road deaths etc)

Click here for more information on isolated Koala populations.




Koalas were re-introduced to South Australia from Victoria after the species was driven to extinction in SA during the fur trade of the 1920s. Subsequently, a population was established on Kangaroo Island where Koalas had never occurred naturally before, relocating animals from Victorian islands, and there is now concern about “over-abundance” of Koalas on the island. Many of the same problems which affect Victoria’s now-isolated populations apply to the Kangaroo Island population. (See information about isolated Koala populations above) The problems on Kangaroo Island are man-made and require well-considered scientific management. Koalas have also been re-introduced to a few areas of mainland South Australia.



The Federal Government considers the protection of the species to be primarily each state’s responsibility.

On Save the Koala Day, 30th July 2004, the AKF submitted a nomination to the Federal Government, supported by a large amount of scientific data gathered over many years, including data from over 1,100 field sites, to list the Koala as ‘Vulnerable’ over its range as a matter of urgency. The nomination was rejected by the Howard Government in May 2006.

Click here to view the full AKF submission, and the Ministers rejection of our nomination.



Listings for the national Koala population

The IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists the Koala as ‘POTENTIALLY VULNERABLE’. This relatively low listing is influenced by Victoria’s "apparently" stable official Koala conservation status. However, the Australian Koala Foundation does not agree with the Victorian Government’s assessment of that state’s current situation.

In 2000, the Koala was listed as ‘THREATENED’ under the United States Endangered Species Act by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This is one category below ‘Endangered’.