Aus may list Koalas as 'endangered', announces $52.4 mn emergency fund for crisis

04:37 PM Jan 13, 2020 | PTI |
Melbourne: The Australian government on Monday said it might declare Koalas as an "endangered" species after the population of the cuddly animal suffered an "extraordinary hit" in the unprecedented devastating bushfires, which destroyed 30 percent of their habitat across the country. The government also announced a 76-million Australian dollar fund for emergency mental health services for the communities hit by the crisis since September last year. The raging Australian bushfires, one of the worst in its history, has killed at least 26 people, burned over 10 million hectares of land, destroyed over 2,000 homes and pushed many species towards extinction. Over 1.25 billion animals are believed to be dead in the wake of bushfires and experts believe that hundreds of billions of insects may have been wiped out, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported. The government has established a 50-million Australian dollar emergency fund to address the devastating loss of wildlife. Announcing the funding commitment, Environment Minister Sussan Ley said Australia's koala population has taken an "extraordinary hit" in the ongoing bushfires and could be listed as "endangered". The Threatened Species Scientific Committee will need to assess whether koalas have moved from a 'vulnerable' listing to be 'endangered' in some parts of the country, she said. Koala populations across the country are not all impacted by the fires. Koalas are listed as vulnerable in northern New South Wales (NSW) and south-east Queensland, and the fires have likely put them under more pressure there, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. The bushfires this summer season has destroyed over 10 million hectares of land across the country, while over 8.4 million hectares have been destroyed in NSW alone. With 30 percent of their habitat already been destroyed in the devastating bushfires, koalas the herbivorous marsupial animal native to Australia has become a big focus for the Australian government. The ongoing blaze is also believed to have killed approximately half of the Koala population in the Kangaroo Island, described as Australia's Galapagos Islands. "We know that our native flora and fauna have been very badly damaged. It will be some time before we know what that means for their numbers (and) koalas will be a big area of focus for us," Environment Minister Ley said. "It may be necessary to see whether, in certain parts of the country, koalas move from where they are, which is often vulnerable, up to endangered," she said. According to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the bushfire crisis is an "ecological disaster" that is "still unfolding". Pointing to the widespread trauma caused by the devastating blaze, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a 76-million Australian dollar emergency fund for mental health services to the bushfire-affected communities. "These bushfires have been unprecedented in their scale, coverage, and duration. They have also taken a traumatic emotional toll on our people. We need to ensure the trauma and mental health needs of our people are supported in a way like we never have before," Morrison said. The government will spend 10.5 million Australian dollars on providing those affected with 10 free counseling sessions and 3.2 million Australian dollars will go towards deploying bushfire mental health response coordinators. Medicare rebates will also be available for up to 10 psychological therapy sessions, according to ABC. Online telehealth services will also be expanded to provide treatment sessions for people in remote areas, while 16 million Australian dollars will go to specialist support for emergency services personnel, targeting the more severe needs they might have, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

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