When some koalas needed friends, these farmers stepped up.

A new coal mine would uproot 2,000 acres of woodland the koalas depend on for food and shelter.

The Liverpool Plains of Australia are a tawny green stretch of land in New South Wales, Australia.

Nestled between two mountain ranges, the land is incredibly rich, with fertile soils, a large aquifer, and large swaths of woodland.


Image via Tim J Keegan/Flickr.

It's also sitting on tons of coal.

Something the Australian government and the Shenhua Group — a Chinese mining company — would love to get their hands on. Australia is positively addicted to digging the stuff out of the ground — it's one of the largest coal exporters in the world — and depends on it for 70% of its electricity.

"Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world," said then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014.

But farmers don't want to live next to a coal mine.

The Anglesea coal mine in nearby Victoria is an example of Australian pit mining. Image via Takver/Flickr.

The government's approved a massive 1,000-foot-deep open-pit mine right in the Liverpool Plains to get at the coal. The mine would raze large swaths of land and could pollute the aquifer that locals depend on to live, farm, and ranch.

The land's already bought and sold and the government's already signed the approval. However, farmers have now challenged the government's approval of the mine in court.

They say the miners didn't think about the koalas.


Image via Marc Dalmulder/Flickr.

The mine would uproot 2,000 acres of woodland the koalas depend on for food and shelter.

The Liverpool koala population are already in trouble from the recent droughts and brush fires. Koalas aren't good at keeping cool and need big shady trees to protect them. If the trees are cut down, the koalas overheat.

"They are large animals that live in trees, they can't burrow down or fly away to get away from the heat. We could see a huge reduction in numbers if habitat is not kept properly."

"If we don't plant enough big trees, we will find koalas perish if heatwaves increase," Matthew Crowther, a researcher from the University of Syndey, told Guardian Australia in 2013. More than a quarter of the local Liverpool Plains koala population died in a 2009 heat wave.

"They are large animals that live in trees, they can't burrow down or fly away to get away from the heat. We could see a huge reduction in numbers if habitat is not kept properly."

And climate change is only going to make things harder.

Koalas eat nothing but eucalyptus leaves. But as the weather gets hotter and drier and carbon dioxide levels rise, eucalyptus trees are changing how their leaves grow. They'll have less protein, less nutrients, and more bitter, toxic tannins. Koalas may start to starve.

This is serious enough that the IUCN — the International Union for the Conservation of Nature — specifically named them as one of the animals most at risk from climate change.

Of course, the animals could just eat more or be more picky about which trees they live in, but there's only so much to go around. This'll mean that many koalas may need to travel long distances to stay fed. Scientists are predicting that koala populations may need to move to the south and east.


Koalas are not particularly fast or agile, so being on the ground puts them in a lot of danger from dogs and other predators. Image via Frankzed/Flickr.

And though traveling on the ground is something koalas could do, there's one particular problem the Liverpool koalas will have.

Namely, a giant freaking mine in the way.

Not only would the mine be, you know, a giant barren pit full of giant, dangerous machinery, it would also require new roads and railway lines to be built, which would only make it harder for koalas to migrate.

Plus the fact that burning this coal would release more carbon makes this mine a double whammy against koalas.

"Scientists are not optimistic of the ability of this highly specialised species to adapt to a changing climate," said a 2009 report by the IUCN (PDF). Though koalas are still widespread, they may not stay that way in the future.

The Australian federal government does not currently protect koalas as a threatened species, but farmers hope that by highlighting their plight, they can stop the construction of this mine and save their land (and an Australian icon) while they're at it.

Image via Kate Ausburn/Flickr.

If you're interested in lending a hand not just to koalas but to all animals threatened by fossil fuels and climate change, you can help by signing the League of Conservation Voters' petition telling Congress to support the Clean Power Plan.

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