KOALAS are one of our national icons today, but 130 years ago they were hunted for their pelts as part of a global fur trade.
Historical research by the Australian Koala Foundation has unearthed confronting figures, with studies showing at least eight million koalas were killed and their pelts shipped to London, the United States and Canada between 1888 and 1927.
Koala fur is waterproof and was highly sought after for use in making hats and gloves and to line coats.
Today there are an estimated 87,000 wild koalas left nationally, representing just 1% of those shot for the fur trade.
AKF chief executive officer Deborah Tabart said the Australia koala fur trade completely decimated wild populations.
Ms Tabart said the research compiled from news archives, published works and historical data would give scientists clearer insight into the historical trends of koala populations.
She said it would also be important to help regenerating populations.
"It will enable scientists of the future to restock landscapes," she said.
"Where did they thrive before European settlers came?"
AKF records show between 1888 and July 1918 at least 4,098,276 koala furs passed through London auction houses.
"This figure doesn't include records from 1911 to 1914," Ms Tabart said.
"London wasn't the only market - records we've obtained indicate more than 400,000 pelts were shipped in 1901 alone from Adelaide to the USA.
"In 1919 two million pelts were shipped to the USA, followed by another two million in 1924."
Ms Tabart said this slaughter had koalas hunted to functional extinction in South Australia by 1912.
"By the 1920s, koalas were reduced to a few hundred individuals in New South Wales and 1000 in Victoria," she said.
"Only Queensland still retained significant numbers but that wasn't to last.
"In 1927 in Queensland, the country's final, but highly controversial month-long hunt known as Black August, more than 800,000 koalas were killed."
By this time, everyday Queenslanders, led by Brisbane's Anglican Archbishop Gerald Sharp, recognised the need to protect this iconic animal and campaigned fiercely against hunting.
But it wasn't until USA's then Secretary for Commerce, Herbert Hoover (who later became president), signed an order in 1927 permanently prohibiting koala skin importation, that trade was halted.
Ms Tabart said as a younger man, President Hoover had spent time in the West Australian goldfields so would have been aware of the importance of this animal to Australia, which may have influenced his decision.
She said this confronting history emphasised the responsibility people had to continue to protect and encourage the regeneration of the koala population nationally.
September is Save the Koala Month.
Koala fur was waterproof, and used to make hats, gloves and fur linings for coats
At least eight million koalas were killed for their fur between 1888 and 1927.
In 1901, 400,000 furs were shipped from Adelaide to the USA.
By the 1920s koalas were reduced to a few hundred individuals in New South Wales and a thousand animals in Victoria.
By the 1920s only Queensland retained significant numbers.
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