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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
E Australia koalas 'under threat'
Koalas are threatened by changing land use
Koalas could be wiped out in eastern Australia within 12 years, a conservation group has warned.

The Australian Koala Foundation said that urban and agricultural sprawl was infringing on koalas' habitat to a dangerous degree.

The group said it would request the federal government to list koalas as a vulnerable species next month.

It is estimated there were up to 10m koalas at the beginning of the 20th century, and only 100,000 exist now.

More than half of those live in eastern Australia - many in south-east Queensland. The foundation has studied 1,000 koala habitats east of the Great Dividing Range, which separates the eastern coast of Australia from the rest of the country.

"We believe that we have unprecedented data, and I don't believe any scientific committee will have ever seen anything like it," executive director Deborah Tarbart told the Associated Press.

"We can show that if everything stays the same as it is now, the extinction will occur within 12 years," she said.

Koalas' forest habitats - which provide them with the eucalyptus leaves that sustain them - are being cleared for development or cultivation, and cars and domestic dogs pose a threat to the animals when they wander at night.

Ms Tarbart said the government should invest in commuter trains, rather than roads.

"The joke is the koala brings in A$2.5bn (US$ 1.75bn) in tourist dollars. This country rides on tourism and the koalas are the number one animal people want to see," she said.

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