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What Happens When an Animal Is Declared ‘Functionally Extinct’?

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A female koala eats eucalyptus leaves.

Recently, the Australian Koala Foundation announced that it believes “there are no more than 80,000 koalas in Australia,” making the species “functionally extinct.”

While this number is dramatically lower than the most recent academic estimates, there’s no doubt koala numbers in many places are in steep decline.

It’s hard to say exactly how many koalas are still remaining in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory, but they are highly vulnerable to threats including deforestation, disease, and the effects of climate change.

Once a koala population falls below a critical point it can no longer produce the next generation, leading to extinction.

What Does ‘Functionally Extinct’ Mean?

The term “functionally extinct” can describe a few perilous situations. In one case, it can refer to a species whose population has declined to the point where it can no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem. For example, it has been used to describe dingoes in places where they have become so reduced they have a negligible influence on the species they prey on.

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