Koalas also played an important role in the stories and legends that aborigines told about the natural world.
Like the bison in North America, the koala was both a source of food and an animal respected for its supernatural power.
Aboriginal people were the first human to live in Australia and probably arrived around 60,000 years ago. Although some tribes killed koalas for food, it is thought that these animals were still very common when the first European arrived in Australia in 1788.
In the 1800s large numbers of people came from Europe to settle in Australia. They began to cut down the native forest to make way for their farmland and human neighborhoods. As well as destroying the koalas’ habitat, the settlers started to kill them for their fur.
The fur trade had a devastating effect on koala populations. In the 1800s and early 1900s millions of koalas were killed. Most skins were exported to Europe and United States. This large-scale slaughter of koalas caused a major public outcry. By the end of 1930s, koalas were declared a protected species and deliberate killing of koalas become extinct in the state of South Australia. Their numbers were massively reduced in other places. Although the koala was finally given some protection, laws were not brought in at that time to protect the eucalyptus trees that the koalas need for food and shelter
The ancestors of today’s koalas probably lived in the rain forests that once covered much of Australia.
Scientists have found fossil remains of koala – like animals that are around 25 million years old. Over time Australia’s climate gradually became drier. Eucalyptus trees began to grow and koalas evolved to live alongside them.
European settlers also cleared vast areas of eucalyptus woodland to plant crops and graze farm animals. Four – fifths of the original eucalyptus woods disappeared. The koala rapidly became a rare species.
Between 1919 and 1924, it is estimated that eight million koalas were killed. In 1927 the Australian Government decided to do something to save the koala from extinction. It passed a law making it illegal to hunt and kill koalas.
And forbidding the export of koala furs. But many people still hunted them for food.
But the koala is still not safe. While it is against the law to kill a koala, its habits are still not protected from destruction. Farmers have chopped down forests of eucalyptus trees to make room for their crops. Logging companies have done the same to turn the trees into lumber. Builders have destroyed koala habitat to create space for new houses and businesses.
Even where people have left the koalas’ habitat untouched, they are in danger. By breaking up their larger habitat, humans have isolated these animals. They often live in pockets or clumps of trees separated from other koalas. To reach a new group of trees, many koalas have had to cross newly built roads, crowded with traffic. Many have been struck and killed by speeding autos trying to cross roads to reach new trees. Experts believe that about four thousand kolas are killed by cars and dogs each year.
About 100,000 wild koalas are left in Australia.
The endangered species list is an official list of the world’s animals that are in danger of dying out.
Koalas have been on this list in the past. Today, instead of being listed as “endangered “Koalas are listed as “threatened.” This means their numbers have increased.