The Australian government is considering listing koalas in three states on the east coast as endangered species, Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said Friday.

The population of koalas in the states of New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory has been threatened by deforestation and other factors but dealt a devastating blow by bushfires in 2019 and 2020 that hit the east coast.

Photo taken March 2, 2021, shows a koala living on Australia's Kangaroo Island, near Adelaide. More than 41,000 koalas were killed or injured in the 2019-2020 fires that burned about half of the island. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The animal is being classified as "vulnerable" on the government's list on species protection but conservation groups nominated it to be listed as "endangered" in March.

"The bushfires were the final straw, hitting at the heart of already struggling koala populations and critical habitat," said Josey Sharrad from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, quoted by The Canberra Times on Friday.

An estimated one-third of koalas in New South Wales were lost to the blazes, with the fires also destroying a quarter of the state's koala habitat, according to a report by the legislative council of New South Wales on the koala populations and habitat in the state.

Experts have warned that the beloved Australian icon will be extinct by 2050, unless urgent action is taken.

To take further steps to protect koalas, the Australian government is calling for public comment on a plan for recovering the population and the proposal of raising threatened species protection status of the animal in the three states to "endangered."

Alongside the proposed, Ley announced an investment of AU$24 million (US$18 million) on effort for recovering the koala population including habit restoration, population mapping and veterinary support.

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