What are some of the largest contributors to koala habitat loss? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Danielle Clode, Associate Professor at Finder’s University, on Quora:

The loss of koala habitat loss was one of the big questions I wanted to answer when I started writing my book on koalas. As a conservation biologist I knew that clearing native vegetation, especially trees, was meant to be banned across Australia now, so why are the forests, and koala habitat, still disappearing?

Koalas are native to the eucalyptus forests that stretched along the entire east and south-eastern coast of Australia. They aren’t found in the tropical forests of the Northern Territory, or the isolated forests of Western Australia or Tasmania. Unfortunately, this extensive east and south coast forest coincided with the fertile lands where Europeans decided to first settle.

While Indigenous Australians had sustainably maintained the forests for tens of thousands of years with fire, European settlers cleared over a million square hectares of the richest and most fertile forests within 100 hears. This cut the heart out of koala habitat.

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Koalas need a lot of eucalypt trees to survive – around 200-400 of the particular species they prefer. A koala may need one hectare (about the size of an average sports field) if they live in lush forests or up to 300 hectares (the size of New York’s Central Park) if they live in dry inland forest. Koalas are fussy eaters because eucalypts contain a lot of toxins, which differs by species, individual tree, environmental conditions, and even different leaves on the same tree at different times.

The destruction and fragmentation of Australia’s east and south coast forest estate has created small forest islands in a sea of farmland, cities, towns and roads that are dangerous and inhospitable for koalas. Dogs and cars kill many koalas. When koalas disappear in one forest patch, they aren’t able to repopulate it from other forests.

And the few remaining forests are still under threat. There are a lot of exemptions for native forest protection, including for mining, forestry and agriculture. Forestry often promotes tree species that are too toxic for koalas to eat. Australia is one of the few developed nations listed as a global deforestation hotspot – mainly through continued land clearance in New South Wales and Queensland – the two states where koalas (unsurprisingly) are endangered.

Housing and development continue to destroy prime koala habitat and increase mortality from cars and dogs, But human housing doesn’t have to exclude koalas. In South Australia, a booming koala population is moving down from the forested hills into the city along vegetated creeklines into parklands and leafy neighborhoods. We can easily make our suburbs more koala friendly by planning for safe wildlife corridors, retaining mature trees and building around remnant vegetation patches. All of which would make a much better home for us as well as for koalas.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

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