A numbat sitting on a rock in the Australian bush.

Australia’s threatened species: what is the biggest threat they face?

By understanding what is killing off the native animals we treasure, we can help to ensure they're part of a shared, kinder future for all.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated September 4, 2023

On the 7th of September, 1936, the last remaining Tasmanian tiger died alone in captivity. This native Australian species suffered and disappeared largely due to habitat destruction and hunting encouraged by the government. Almost 90 years later, with many native animals listed as vulnerable or endangered, we urgently need to learn from past mistakes.

Despite being adored by people across the continent and the globe, Australian wildlife populations are declining at an alarming rate. Even the most cute and charismatic species who seemingly receive a lot of conservation attention, like the koala, are under threat.

Thankfully, there is a growing number of compassionate people – just like you – who want to turn this trend around and see native animals survive, and thrive, alongside us.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A close up of a tan dingo looking at the camera.
Dingoes are threatened native animals, forced to navigate an ever-shrinking habitat. At the same time, their 'protected' status is lifted in some areas, and they are poisoned, trapped and shot via government-condoned killing programs.

Why are native species becoming endangered and extinct?

The key threats to wildlife survival are habitat destruction and exploitation, both driven by our current food system. Of the 28,000 species listed on the IUCN Red List as threatened with extinction, agriculture and aquaculture are threats for over 85% of them. 

Each year, an increasing number of farmed animals are being bred to be killed for food, and trillions of animals are being dragged out of the oceans.  

Right now, half of the world’s habitable land (ice and desert-free land) is used for agriculture, and of that, more than three-quarters is used to farm animals. As more and more land is cleared to graze and grow feed for farmed animals, there is less habitat and food for native animals like threatened flying foxes and endangered koalas. And as massive fishing nets trawl seas and scoop up everyone in their path, animals like vulnerable sharks and rays are killed as collateral.

Some so-called ‘protected’ species are even killed or shot at to protect industry interests. The native dingo can be poisoned or shot in certain areas of the country, and the fishing industry uses dangerous and often harmful explosive devices to ‘deter’ seals from unnatural fish farms in their habitats.

The survival of precious Australian wildlife is relying on us to learn how to better share this planet that is home to us all, and a big part of that is shifting the way we think about – and consume – food.

According to a recent Oxford study, the food choices we make each day are incredibly powerful, and perhaps more so than many people may realise!

On land, wildlife habitat is being destroyed so humans can graze – and eat – farmed animals

Australia’s land animals are being ‘pushed out’ of their homes, and available data points to grazing animals – namely for beef and dairy – as the biggest cause. Land clearing for mining and urban uses (housing and infrastructure) also has a detrimental impact, however it accounts for considerably less land use when compared to farmed animal grazing. 

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A koala gripping to a tree trunk looks right at the camera.
Koalas were once hunted for their fur, now, they face serious threat from an ever-shrinking habitat due to forest clearing, plantation logging and catastrophic weather events. In 2022 the Australian Government upgraded their conservation status from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ in NSW, QLD and the ACT.

Combining pastures used to graze farmed animals and the land used to grow crops to feed them, farmed animals account for 77% of global farming land. Surprisingly, although animal agriculture takes up most farmed land, it produces just 37% of the world’s total protein and even less of its calories – meaning farming animals for food is not the most efficient use of the land.   

There are an estimated 28 million cattle and 78 million sheep in Australia – and every single one of these animals requires land to graze on. They also need feed from crops just like the pigs and chickens who are largely kept in intensive factory farms. While soy crops often get a bad rap for causing global deforestation, most soy is used as feed for farmed animals around the world.   

In 2018, one of the most in-depth studies on the environmental impact of food suggested that if everyone shifted to plant-based foods, global land use for agriculture could be reduced by 75% and still feed the human population. Given mammals bred to be killed for food now outweigh Earth’s wild mammals by an estimated factor of 15-to-1, and farmed poultry outweigh wild birds an estimated factor of 3-to-1, a reduction in farmed land would hugely benefit wildlife by giving them back much-needed space.

In the sea, the fishing industry and coastal development are threatening marine animals

Every year, trillions of fish suffer and die from being crushed in fishing nets or from suffocation when being dragged out of their aquatic home. ‘Non-target’ sea animals fall victim to the fishing industry as well. As supertrawler nets scoop up everyone in their path, some of the most threatened animals in the world fall victim, like sharks and rays.

One-third of sharks, rays, and chimaeras (a relative of sharks and rays) are now threatened with extinction, yet this status offers them no real protection. Over 99% of shark species are killed via business-as-usual fishing operations – whether targeted for their meat, fins and oil for consumers across the globe, or trapped and killed unintentionally as ‘by-catch’.  

In addition to the fishing threats they face, sharks are also trapped and killed by indiscriminate drum lines (aquatic traps with baited hooks) and shark nets in popular coastal locations for humans. These state government shark ‘culling programs’ have proven ineffective for beach-goer safety, and continue to cause the suffering and death of sharks and even whales. 

The farmed fish industry – as well as causing the immense suffering of fish – also presents a danger to wild marine animals. Protected seals are being shot at and sometimes killed for the interest of the farmed salmon industry. Often misunderstood as being more environmentally friendly, the farmed fish industry is contributing to the degradation of marine health too. Fish are being taken from the wild to feed farmed fish, ‘non-target’ species are killed as ‘by-catch’, and the ocean is being polluted with fishing-related plasticsin the process.

Three ways you can help wildlife today

Those before us have passed down ways of thinking and shaped our beliefs of what animal species are ‘friends’ to be saved, ‘pests’ to be eradicated, or ‘food’ to be eaten – but it doesn’t have to stay this way.

By opening our hearts and minds to all animals we can shape the kinder future we dream of. 

  1. As consumer demand drives industry activity, the power lies with us to shift demand to foods and products that are kinder to animals and the planet. Join the evolution of kindness to get started  order your free guide to more compassionate and sustainable living here. 
  2. With native animal habitats rapidly diminishing, a meaningful way you can help is by turning your backyard into a wildlife haven. Learn more and take the pledge to share your yard with precious Australian wildlife. 
  3. Keep learning and knowledge sharing! As the weather warms up in Australia, wildlife will increasingly need help – circulate these simple ways to help with friends and family, and teach the children in your life to have compassion for animals with these fun activities