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The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

ISSN 2307-8235 (online)


IUCN 2008: T16892A21960344

Phascolarctos cinereus, Koala


Assessment by: Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A.

View on www.iucnredlist.org

Citation: Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A. 2016. Phascolarctos cinereus. The IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species 2016: e.T16892A21960344. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.20161.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en
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THE IUCN RED LIST OF THREATENED SPECIES

Taxonomy
Kingdom

Phylum

Class

Order

Family

Animalia

Chordata

Mammalia

Diprotodontia

Phascolarctidae

Taxon Name:Phascolarctos cinereus (Goldfuss, 1817)


Synonym(s):
Lipurus cinereus Goldfuss, 1817

Common Name(s):
English:

Koala

Assessment Information
Red List Category & Criteria:

Vulnerable A2b+3bce+4bce ver 3.1

Year Published:

2016

Date Assessed:

May 27, 2014

Justification:
The conservation status of the Koala has been contested (Melzer et al. 2000; The Senate Environment
and Communications References Committee 2011), in part because of uncertainty about relevant
population parameters and marked variation in population trends across its large range. The overall rate
of decline in population size over the last 18-24 years (=three generations) was estimated at about 28%
by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (2012), with this rate substantially influenced by a
severe decline in inland regions most exposed to recent drought. A separate expert elicitation process
involving independent estimates (from 15 Koala experts) of population size in every bioregion inhabited
by Koalas concluded that the Koala population size reduction or projected reduction over three
generations is a mean of 29%, albeit with substantial variation amongst experts in estimation of this rate
(McAlpine et al. 2012). Climate change is expected to lead to an increased rate of population reduction
over the next 20-30 years, and the impacts of other threats will magnify over this period. Here we
consider that the conservation status of the Koala is border-line between Near Threatened and
Vulnerable, but we adopt a precautionary assessment given the proximity of the estimated current and
projected rate of decline to the threshold, and published assessments of the likelihood of additional and
compound impacts due to climate change (Woinarski et al. 2014)

Previously Published Red List Assessments


2008 Least Concern (LC) http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T16892A6549393.en
1996 Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt)

Geographic Range
Range Description:

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Phascolarctos cinereus published in 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

The Koala was formerly common throughout the broad band of forests and woodlands dominated by
Eucalyptus spp. extending from north Queensland to the south-eastern corner of mainland South
Australia, Australia (Maxwell et al. 1996). Currently it occurs in northeastern, central, and southeastern
Queensland with patchy populations in western areas; eastern New South Wales including the coastal
strip and highlands of the Great Dividing Range, as well as the western plains and related riparian
environments where suitable habitat occurs; Victoria; and southeastern South Australia. Its total
geographic range has contracted significantly due to loss of large areas of habitat since European
settlement. In Queensland, extent of occurrence and area of occupancy have contracted by about 30%
(Gordon et al. 2006).
The Koala has been introduced to at least 12 islands including: Kangaroo (South Australia, 450,000 ha),
French (Victoria, 17,470 ha), Phillip (Victoria, 10,116 ha), and Magnetic (Queensland, 5,200 ha) (Abbott
and Burbidge 1995). It has also been introduced within the mainland in the Adelaide Region and along
the Murray River (Maxwell et al. 1996).

Country Occurrence:
Native: Australia (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria)

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Phascolarctos cinereus published in 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

Distribution Map
Phascolarctos cinereus

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Phascolarctos cinereus published in 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

Population
There are robust population estimates for some regions, notably the Mulga Lands of southwest
Queensland (for which a 2009 estimate is about 12,000 individuals: Seabrook et al. 2011). More broadly,
Queensland EPA (2006) estimated the Koala population size in Queensland in 2006 at between 100,000
and 300,000 individuals. In its 2012 listing advice, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (2012)
provided State-based best estimates of population size in 2010, tallying to between 347,000 and
518,000 individuals across all States. Some other sources have concluded that the population size is
<100,000 individuals (see The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee 2011). A
recent expert-based elicitation process provided an aggregated mean estimate of 330,000 individuals
across the Koalas current range (McAlpine et al. 2012), suggesting the number of mature individuals is
c. 300,000.
Population densities are very variable between regions and across time: examples include 1-3
individuals/ha in coastal forests in south-eastern Queensland (Queensland EPA 2006), 0.01/ha in central
Queensland (Melzer et al. 2000), 0.006/ha in coastal forests of south-eastern New South Wales (Jurskis
and Potter 1997), and >5/ha in forests on Kangaroo Island prior to population control (Masters et al.
2004).
Koala subpopulations may show marked fluctuation, with severe crashes associated with over-browsing
(Menkhorst 2004, 2008) and with long periods of low rainfall or episodes of very high temperatures
(Gordon et al. 1988, Seabrook et al. 2011).
Gordon et al. (2008) considered the overall direction for population trend for Koalas to be unknown.
However, the evidence for overall reduction in population size over the past three generations is
compelling, given sustained management to reduce or stabilize population density of the largest South
Australian subpopulation, demonstration of major decline in parts of inland Queensland (notably in the
Mulga Lands, where population size decreased over recent decades by 80%: Seabrook et al. 2011), and
in much of the coastal range of south-eastern Queensland (e.g. 68% decline in the Koala Coast region
from 1999 to 2010) and New South Wales. However, trends in these regions are not necessarily typical
of the broader range, and population trends may also vary between different subpopulations within
regions: for example, while most monitored Queensland subpopulations have experienced decline over
the last two decades, a low density population at Oakey on the eastern Darling Downs has shown
relative stability in population size (McAlpine et al. 2012; G. Gordon pers. comm. 2014). Likewise, in
New South Wales, subpopulations in coastal regions have declined (some, including around Eden and
Iluka, to extirpation or nearly so), but there are several subpopulations (including Lismore,
Campbelltown and Southern Highlands) that are relatively stable.
Regional-level population size and trend estimates were collated by the Threatened Species Scientific
Committee (2012), based on information from sites with known population density information (or
estimates of number of individuals in subpopulations) and monitoring results, extrapolated to regional
scale, and summed over regions, with some sensitivity analysis. These estimates indicate a 20-year
(1990-2010) decline in population size nationally of about 28%, with that decline greatest in low rainfall
areas of western Queensland exposed to drought conditions. A summary of their interpretation of
population status and trends is given in Table 1 in the Supplementary Material. The major uncertainties
in these estimates of population trends arise from the wide range of estimates for the size of the

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Phascolarctos cinereus published in 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

Victorian subpopulations, and to the imprecision of extrapolations of limited site-specific data to


broader regional trends.
A separate and subsequent independent assessment of population size and trends was provided by
McAlpine et al. (2012), based on an expert elicitation process (e.g. McBride et al. 2012) involving 15
experts in Koala ecology and management across the Koalas range. Although some state-based
population size estimates differed from those given by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, this
process reported a remarkably similar estimate of overall decline in population size of 28.6% in three
generational periods (over a sliding time window of the past three generations and the future three
generations of koala (15-21 years)), although with very wide bounds around the relevant population
size and trend estimates (Table 2 in the Supplementary Material). These wide bounds are indicative of
substantial disagreements between experts concerning population size and trends, and the sparse and
not necessarily representative monitoring data for some subpopulations. Note also that McAlpine et al.
(2012) used a 5-7 year period for generational length, in contrast to the 6-8 year period reported by
Phillips (2000).
With respect to eligibility against IUCN criteria, it could be argued that the decline over the last three
generations has been driven mainly by the impacts of a severe drought, that has now ceased, and hence
that the relevant criterion is A1, for which a decline of >50% in the relevant 20 year time frame would be
required for eligibility. However, drought has been only one of many factors driving decline across the
Koalas range. Furthermore, the ability of inland Koala populations to recover from this recent drought is
likely to be severely compromised by widespread tree death and the legacy impacts of vegetation
clearance which will constrain options for repopulation of now fragmented habitat (Seabrook et al.
2011; Adams-Hosking et al. 2011a,b, 2012). Other threats will continue to cause broad-scale population
decline across much of the Koalas range, and the impacts of at least some of these threats may be
expected to be exacerbated by climate change (Adams-Hosking et al. 2011a,b, 2012).
For further information about this species, see Supplementary Material.

Current Population Trend:Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology (see Appendix for additional information)


The Koala is an arboreal folivorous marsupial. It occurs in forests and woodlands, typically dominated by
eucalyptus species. In inland (semi-arid) portions of its range, it occurs mainly in riparian woodlands
(Ellis et al. 2002, Seabrook et al. 2011). Elsewhere distribution may be associated particularly with soil
fertility (and hence foliage nutrient content) (Moore and Foley 2000). The Koala has a specialist diet,
mostly limited to foliage of Eucalyptus species, with occasional intake of leaves of other plant (mostly
Myrtaceous) genera (Martin and Handasyde 1999; Moore and Foley 2000, 2005). At high population
densities, Koalas can defoliate preferred tree species, causing tree death and subsequent Koala
population crash (Menkhorst 2004, 2008).
The Koala is mostly solitary, but individuals have extensive overlap in home ranges. Home range size
varies substantially with forest structure and productivity, and males typically have larger home ranges
than females. In a coastal forest in New South Wales, average home range size was 10 ha (for females)
to 20 ha (for males) (Lassau et al. 2008); in inland Queensland home ranges were 100 ha (for females) to
135 ha (for males) (Ellis et al. 2002).

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Phascolarctos cinereus published in 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

Breeding is seasonal, with births (typically of single young) in October-May. Females can produce young
at annual intervals, but births per adult female per year average 0.3-0.8 (McLean 2003). Sexual maturity
is reached at 18 months (Jackson 2007). In the wild, longevity of 12 (for males) to 15 years (for females)
has been reported (Martin and Handasyde 1999). Generation length is 6-8 years (Phillips 2000).

Systems:Terrestrial

Use and Trade


Formerly Koala subpopulations were severely depleted by hunting (for furs), with millions killed. This
hunting continued up to 1927 in Queensland (Hrdina and Gordon 2004, Gordon and Hrdina 2005,
Gordon et al. 2008).

Threats (see Appendix for additional information)


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 (AdamsHosking et al. 2011a,b, 2012).

Conservation Actions (see Appendix for additional information)


There is no national recovery plan; however there is a national conservation and management strategy
(NRMMC 2009), a recovery plan for the Koala in New South Wales (NSW DECC 2008), a management
strategy in Victoria (Menkhorst 2004), and a conservation plan and management program for the Koala
in Queensland (Queensland EPA 2006).
A recent parliamentary inquiry concluded that the national conservation and management strategy was
largely ineffective (The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee 2011).
In part because of its iconic status, there has been a relatively long history of conservation management
directed specifically at the Koala (e.g. Menkhorst 2004, 2008; Queensland EPA 2006; New South Wales
Department of Environment and Climate Change 2008; Natural Resource Management Ministerial
Council 2010). This has included a substantial history of translocations, including conservation

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Phascolarctos cinereus published in 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

marooning and re-introduction (mostly in Victoria, Menkhorst 2008) and introduction (mostly in South
Australia: Masters et al. 2004), some land management and forestry prescriptions, monitoring,
substantial research, and localized management of some threats. There are numerous captive breeding
facilities in Australia, and internationally.

Credits
Assessor(s):

Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A.

Reviewer(s):

Johnson, C.N.

Contributor(s):

Martin, R., Menkhorst, P., Lunney, D., Gordon, G., Adams-Hosking, C., Dickman, C.
& McAlpine, C.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Phascolarctos cinereus published in 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

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Australia.
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Kavanagh, R., Baxter, G., Gordon, G., Ellis, B., de Villiers, D., Walter, M., Molsher, R., Todd, C., Moore, B.,
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Evolution 3: 906-920.
McLean, N. 2003. Ecology and management of overabundant koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)
populations. University of Melbourne.
Melzer, A., Carrick, F., Menkhorst, P., Lunney, D. and John, B.S. 2000. Overview, critical assessment, and
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Victoria. In: D. Lunney, A. Munn and W. Meikle (eds), Too close for comfort: contentious issues in humanwildlife encounters, pp. 73-92. Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Mosman.
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cinereus). Australian Journal of Zoology 48: 317-333.
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488-490.
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2006-2016. Queensland EPA, Brisbane.


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Citation
Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A. 2016. Phascolarctos cinereus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
2016: e.T16892A21960344. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

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External Resources
For Supplementary Material, and for Images and External Links to Additional Information, please see the
Red List website.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Phascolarctos cinereus published in 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

10

Appendix
Habitats
(http://www.iucnredlist.org/technical-documents/classification-schemes)
Habitat

Season

Suitability

Major
Importance?

1. Forest -> 1.4. Forest - Temperate

Resident

Suitable

Yes

1. Forest -> 1.5. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Dry

Resident

Suitable

Yes

2. Savanna -> 2.1. Savanna - Dry

Resident

Suitable

No

Threats
(http://www.iucnredlist.org/technical-documents/classification-schemes)
Threat

Timing

Scope

Severity

Impact Score

1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.1.


Housing & urban areas

Ongoing

Minority (50%)

Slow, significant
declines

Low impact: 5

Stresses:

1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion


1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

Ongoing

Minority (50%)

Stresses:

1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

Ongoing

Minority (50%)

Stresses:

1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion


1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

Ongoing

Minority (50%)

Stresses:

1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation


2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

Ongoing

Minority (50%)

Stresses:

1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

Ongoing

Minority (50%)

Stresses:

1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation


2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

Ongoing

Majority (5090%)

Stresses:

2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects ->


2.3.7. Reduced reproductive success

11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.2.


Droughts
11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.3.
Temperature extremes

4. Transportation & service corridors -> 4.1. Roads &


railroads

5. Biological resource use -> 5.3. Logging & wood


harvesting -> 5.3.2. Intentional use: (large scale)
[harvest]
7. Natural system modifications -> 7.1. Fire & fire
suppression -> 7.1.1. Increase in fire
frequency/intensity

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes &


diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien
species/diseases -> 8.1.1. Unspecified species

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Phascolarctos cinereus published in 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

Slow, significant
declines

Rapid declines

Slow, significant
declines

Slow, significant
declines

Rapid declines

Slow, significant
declines

Low impact: 5

Medium
impact: 6

Low impact: 5

Low impact: 5

Medium
impact: 6

Medium
impact: 6

11

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes &


diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien
species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species (Canis
familiaris)

Ongoing

Majority (5090%)

Slow, significant
declines

Medium
impact: 6

Stresses:

2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

Conservation Actions in Place


(http://www.iucnredlist.org/technical-documents/classification-schemes)
Conservation Actions in Place
In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
Action Recovery plan: Yes
Systematic monitoring scheme: Yes
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
Conservation sites identified: Yes, over part of range
Occur in at least one PA: Yes
Percentage of population protected by PAs (0-100): 31-40
In-Place Species Management
Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly: Yes

Conservation Actions Needed


(http://www.iucnredlist.org/technical-documents/classification-schemes)
Conservation Actions Needed
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
1. Land/water protection -> 1.2. Resource & habitat protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.2. Invasive/problematic species control
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.3. Limiting population growth
3. Species management -> 3.3. Species re-introduction -> 3.3.1. Reintroduction
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications

Research Needed
(http://www.iucnredlist.org/technical-documents/classification-schemes)
Research Needed
1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Phascolarctos cinereus published in 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

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Research Needed
1. Research -> 1.6. Actions
2. Conservation Planning -> 2.1. Species Action/Recovery Plan
3. Monitoring -> 3.4. Habitat trends

Additional Data Fields


Distribution
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) (km): 27000-1000000,500000
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO): Yes
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO): No
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO): Yes
Extreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO): No

Population
Number of mature individuals: 100000-500000, 300000
Continuing decline of mature individuals: Yes
Extreme fluctuations: No
Population severely fragmented: No
Continuing decline in subpopulations: Yes
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations: No
All individuals in one subpopulation: No

Habitats and Ecology


Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat: Yes
Generation Length (years): 6-8
Movement patterns: Not a Migrant

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Phascolarctos cinereus published in 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T16892A21960344.en

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The IUCN Red List Partnership

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is produced and managed by the IUCN Global Species
Programme, the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) and The IUCN Red List Partnership.
The IUCN Red List Partners are: BirdLife International; Botanic Gardens Conservation International;
Conservation International; Microsoft; NatureServe; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Sapienza University of
Rome; Texas A&M University; Wildscreen; and Zoological Society of London.

THE IUCN RED LIST OF THREATENED SPECIES