Climate Change: Koalas Feeling The Heat

Australia’s koalas are standing on their hind legs for more than 10 minutes at a time to gulp water at drinking stations as rising temperatures and rainfall disruption drive the animals to search for new sources of moisture, say scientists.
The researchers of the Australian Koala Foundation recently placed cameras and water stations around a farm in the rural town of Gunnedah, more than 300km from the most populous Australian city of Sydney, and home to a large koala population. What they saw is that instead of relying solely on eucalyptus leaves for moisture, more than 100 koalas drank from water stations over the autumn and winter months. The camera footage showed that the koalas were drinking water for an average of more than 10 minutes.
Scientists previously believed that koalas only needed to consume leaves and did not drink. The desperation to slake their thirst is driving a change in the habits of the tree-dwelling species, with koalas ready to run the risk of attack from predators on the ground in their scramble for water.
Lead researcher Valentina Mella, of the University of Sydney’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, said: “The more days without rain, the longer the visits koalas had at the water stations.” She urged the Australian government to make some tough choices in order to save “our furry friends”. According to Mella, koalas are not only a much-loved Australian icon, but also are a tourism money spinner as the vulnerable species contribute more than AUD 1 billion to the Australian economy each year.
It is evident from the research that koala populations are declining rapidly in different parts of Australia as they face the growing threat of climate change, stressed Mella. She further said that recent modelling found that koala habitat could be considerably reduced because of the world warms, particularly due to heatwaves and rainfall disruption.
While koala populations declined by 80% in western Queensland between 1995 and 2009 mainly because of habitat loss, drought and heatwaves, the number of koalas fell by 55-80% in southeast Queensland between 1996 and 2015 due to threats from urban development.

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