Are Koalas functionality extinct?
Are koalas not the cutest? They are clearly the softest - you don’t even have to touch them to know that - they just look too soft to be living outside, right? No outdoor cat would be that soft! Well, let me confirm for you that they are that soft…they also have their own distinctive aroma. Describing an a creature has having a “distinctive” anything is like describing the blind date that you set your roommate up with as “interesting.” And despite this aroma, and the fact that most of them would prefer to bite ya rather than hug ya (okay, maybe not most, but some…), I still love ‘em.
So, imagine my distress when I read that koalas are “functionally” extinct…what? I thought being extinct was like being pregnant - a binomial choice? Apparently, as their estimated numbers are ~80,000, experts have declared koalas functionally extinct. Hmmm…to that we respond with a skeptical, “Really?!”
Let’s examine that together, shall we? So, koalas are native only to Australia. They are protected in Australia. In fact, their 2 biggest threats are being hit by cars (because they pick out a favorite eucalyptus tree and refuse to give it up even if it is in a housing development) and a sexually transmitted disease, Chlamydia sp. Well, if lack of reproduction or opportunities for breeding are an issue impacting overall population growth, then an STD doesn’t seem like such a threat, so I am gonna guess that reproductive opportunities are not what we call limited. That leaves car accidents.
Hmmm…let’s also look at the current estimated population of 80,000. Functionally extinct means that the population is not self-sustainable and unlikely to produce another generation. Well, someone should tell all those folks celebrating success in saving the California Condor ‘cause there is less than 500 of them left. A good amount of funding and resources are being utilized to conserve the Jamaican iguana (yep, they’re a thing, google it, they are blue) with <100 of them estimated to be kicking around the globe. There are fewer than 2000 giant pandas left. If the genetic pool is a puddle, and the creature is “functionally” extinct in the 21st century, does that mean the show is over? Pack it in? That depends, are they cute? Soft? Cuddly? I jest! But, really, a population of 80,000 anything in the wild doesn’t inspire the word extinct for me. With all the opportunities for genetic manipulation, assisted reproductive techniques and adoring crowds in zoos worldwide, it would be embarrassing for the koala to disappear. Perhaps the powers that be “down under” will consider placing koalas in protected areas, like captivity. It seems unlikely that cars will hit them there…but, that’s just a thought...