Thousands back petition to introduce koalas to New Zealand to stop them from going extinct

Bronwen Weatherby
AFP via Getty Images

A petition calling on New Zealand's Prime Minister to introduce koala bears to New Zealand is gaining momentum - but wildlife experts say it is a bad idea.

More than 10,000 animal lovers have now signed the appeal which hopes to convince Jacinda Ardern to welcome koalas into the country's Eucalyptus Plantations.

Some 25,000 koalas, around half of the species' population, are feared dead as a result of the wildfires that have ravaged Australia.

Koalas are just one out of thousands of animal species that have suffered substantial losses in the fires, with around one billion animals estimated to have perished across the country.

The Koala Relocation Society behind the petition believe koalas would thrive in New Zealand's habitat, which is not unlike the eucalyptus woodlands that make up their native Australian homes.

Adelaide wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk rescues koala from burning forest (Reuters)

They also claimed koalas would not compromise the local eco-system because of the similarity in habitats.

"Koalas are functionally extinct in Australia, and could thrive in New Zealand, as many other Australasian species do," says the Change.org petition.

"They would not compromise our local eco-system, as koalas typically inhabit open eucalypt woodlands, and the leaves of these trees make up most of their diet.

"New Zealand has 28575 hectares planted in eucalypts, most is located in the Central North Island, and are similar to much older forests from Australia, as they grow fast here.

"If we don't act now, the extinction of the koala will be the fault of not just Ozzies but also all us Kiwis letting our grandparents build houses in Port McQuarie."

It adds: "Come on ANZACs; if we introduce this unique animal in a controlled way, we can pavalova the worlds most beguiling marsupial."

However, wildlife experts have warned against introducing the marsupial to New Zealand despite their suffering being "heartbreaking" to watch.

"The way to solve another country's ecological problems is not by being some ark that we randomly bring these species into," director of Biological Heritage national science Andrea Byrom said.

Speaking to Kiwi radio station MagicTalk on Monday, Ms Byrom said: "In any situation like this where people are thinking about introducing an animal to another country it would just be a no-go," she told Panapa.

"We just don't know what the wider impacts of introducing species like the koala into New Zealand would bring - even if it's into introduced eucalyptus forests. And I'm sure the forestry sector would probably have something to say about it as well."

Around half of the koala population is believed to have been wiped out making them endangered (Getty Images)

New Zealanders will be very familiar with the damage that can be caused to a foreign marsupial being introduced to their country.

In 1837, the brushtail possum was brought over from Australia by people hoping to expand the fur trade.

However, it became the country's most damaging animal pest and wreaked havoc on native forests, costing farmers $35 million a year.

New Zealand has strict rules about importing live animals to protect its biodiversity.

Wellington Zoo says it and other zoos are not planning on taking in any koalas, a spokesperson saying they do not have enough eucalytus to care for them.

"Currently there are no koala in New Zealand, and we are not aware if any of the other zoos are planning any koala habitats," they said

"The biggest barrier for us is that depending on where the koala come from, they eat a different selection of species of eucalyptus. A plantation of a variety of established trees would be required to be able to feed the koalas on a daily basis, and this is not something that Wellington Zoo has.

A spokesperson for Ms Ardern told Newshub that the PM is currently focused on aiding Australia with firefighters and defence logistics and not bringing in koalas.

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