Australian koalas stood on their hind legs for more than 10 minutes at a time drinking water at built-in water stations on an Australian farm during the autumn and winter seasons, video footage published by Reuters reported Wednesday. Scientists said the rising temperatures in Australia and lack of rainfall have forced koalas to seek out nontraditional sources of water.
Prior to this phenomenon, scientists believed koalas did not drink water and only needed to consume eucalyptus leaves to survive. "The more days without rain, the longer the visits koalas had at the water stations," researcher Valentina Mella of the University of Sydney's School of Life and Environmental Sciences said.
The Australian Koala Foundation approximated there may have been fewer than 43,000 koalas left in the wild — a 95 percent decrease since the 1990s. Koalas cannot withstand severe droughts and heat waves, which has been increasingly common in southern Australia, with the country's east coast experiencing its hottest summer ever from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, the independent Climate Council reported this month.
"The Angry Summer was characterized by intense heat waves, hot days and bushfires in central and eastern Australia, while heavy rainfall and flooding affected the west of the country," the key findings of the Climate Council's report read, including that climate change also caused hotter, longer lasting and more frequent heat waves.
"To see them in this area where there just isn't any water was certainly a shock and an eye-opener," farmer and designer of the koala drinking station Robert Frend said.
Although koalas are not endangered, the Australian Koala Foundation predicted they may be soon if critical action to protect them is not taken. In April 2012, the Australian government proclaimed koalas as a "vulnerable" species across all of Australia — the mainland to koala habituation. If action is not taken to ensure a better quality of life for koalas in the country, the spread of disease alone could force koalas into extinction in the next 30 years. Not only would the death of koalas be an extreme tragedy, but it would also take an estimated $1 billion a year in tourism revenue with it to the grave as well, The Week reported.