The sad story behind these photos of a young and smiling Prince Harry in Sydney
THESE pictures show a baby faced, young Prince Harry during a royal tour of Australia in 2003, meeting some of the koala residents at Taronga Zoo.
When they were snapped back then, few could predict Harry’s future path — his troubled years, a decorated military career and that fairytale romance with Hollywood star Meghan Markle.
But the pictures of the then 19-year-old Harry also hide a sad reality and a shocking statistic.
“In the 15 years since then, koala numbers in New South Wales have plunged by 32 per cent, largely due to the bulldozing of forests they depend on,” WWF-Australia conservation scientist Martin Taylor said.
Figures published by the Federal Government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee estimate that in 2003 there were 24,600 koalas in the wild across the state.
Today, as Harry and his bride stopped by Taronga to pat some koalas, that number sits at just 16,800, Dr Taylor said.
That plunge represents a catastrophic state of affairs for the national animal, which has a very uncertain future.
At that rate of decline, were Harry to visit Australia again in his 60s, there would probably be no koalas in the wild.
“The NSW government needs to urgently tighten laws to halt the alarming resurgence of tree clearing we are seeing now,” Dr Taylor said.
“Otherwise, zoos may be the only place left in New South Wales to see a koala.”
The bulldozing of koala habits in the state’s central north, west of Moree, more than tripled after the government repealed the Native Vegetation Act a year ago.
The State Government’s own advisers warned that the new laws would permit the destruction of 99 per cent of all identified koala habitats, Nature Conservation Council boss Kate Smolski said.
“The area where this habitat destruction has occurred is one of the most heavily cleared in the state, with only six per cent of forest remaining while an additional 11 per cent was in sparse woodlands,” Ms Smolski said.
“The NSW Government is responsible opening the floodgates to the destruction of koala forests and woodlands on a scale we have not seen for more than 20 years.”
The Federal Government lists koala populations in Queensland, NSW and the ACT as “vulnerable”.
But conservation groups say little has been done to protect habitats and reverse the trend of worrying population declines.
Koalas are thought to have inhabited vast parts of the country for 25 million years, but numbers have collapsed by 53 per cent in Queensland over the past two decades.
WWF-Australia has warned of an “unfolding tragedy” that could lead to extinction across the country’s east coast.
“It’s our generation’s responsibility to stop excessive tree clearing and ensure koalas have a safe home for the future,” the group said.
Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute Professor Rebecca Johnson told news.com.au in July that the marsupials could soon go the same was as the endangered Tasmanian devil.
“It is a really important reminder that we cohabit with these animals and our backyards weren’t always there,” Professor Johnson said.
“If you’re lucky to have a koala in your backyard, think about some measures to protect it like not letting it fall in your pool and your dog chasing it.”
Koala-related tourism is believed to contribute about $1.5 billion to the Australian economy annually.