Learn About Koalas
Koalas are nocturnal marsupials famous for spending most of their lives asleep in trees. During the day they doze, tucked into forks or nooks in the trees, sleeping for up to 18 hours. This sedentary lifestyle can be attributed to the fact they have unusually small brains and survive on a diet of nutrient-poor leaves. Koalas tend to smell strongly of eucalyptus and musk. This is thought to discourage fleas and other animals from living in its fur.
COMMON NAME: KOALA
SCIENTIFIC NAME: PHASCOLARCTOS CINEREUS
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN: 20 YEARS
SIZE: 24 to 34 INCHES
WEIGHT: 20 POUNDS
What Do Koalas Eat
Koalas feed on eucalyptus leaves, especially at night. They do not drink much water and they get most of their moisture from these leaves. In Aborigine language, the word ‘koala’ means ‘no water’. However, koalas can become dehydrated in very high temperatures.
Each animal eats a tremendous amount for its size—about one kilogram of leaves a day. Koalas even store snacks of leaves in pouches in their cheeks. To digest these leaves, the koala has a special digestive system—a long gut— which measures a colossal two metres and is packed with super micro-organisms that detoxify the vegetation.
How Do Koalas Move
Koalas have strong arms and legs as well as large feet with sharp claws that help them move about amongst the trees. They also have two opposable thumbs on their forepaws, enabling them to get a good grip when climbing trees. Although clumsy on the ground, the koala is an excellent swimmer and may cross rivers in order to escape from heavy flooding in one area.
Main Threats to Koalas
The Koala is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The most significant threat to koala populations is habitat loss due to clearing of forests in Australia for urban, industrial and rural development. Loss of habitat not only results in reduced availability to food and shelter but also increased stress. When under stress, koalas are more susceptible to disease that can lead to infertility and death.
Another major threat to populations is mortalities due to collisions with cars. In South East Queensland, on average almost 300 koalas are killed each year by vehicles. Koalas are also vulnerable to attacks by dogs. It is estimated that around 75% of koalas attacked by dogs die from their injuries. This figure may be even higher as many cases of dog attacks are not reported.
The most widely quoted estimate of the national koala population is between 43 515 and 84 615 koalas left in the wild. This range was broadly supported by Professor McAlpine, Spokesperson, Koala Research Network, who stated: "There were once millions of koalas in Australia and now there are probably no more than 50,000".
Fun Facts About Koalas
1) Koalas are found in the eucalyptus forests of eastern Australia. They have grey fur with a cream-coloured chest, and strong, clawed feet, perfect for living in the branches of trees!
2) Cuddly critters, koalas measure about 60cm to 85cm long, and weigh about 14kg.
3) Although you may have heard people call them koala ‘bears’, these awesome animals aren’t bears at all – they are in fact marsupials. A group of mammals, most marsupials have pouches where their newborns develop.
4) When an infant koala – called a joey – is born, it immediately climbs up to its mother’s pouch. Blind and earless, a joey uses its strong sense of touch and smell, as well as natural instinct, to find its way.
5) A joey grows and develops in the pouch for about six months. Once strong enough, the youngster rides around on its mother’s back for a further six months, only using the pouch to feed.
6) Koala’s grow up to become big eaters, shifting up to one kilogram of eucalyptus leaves in a day! They are fussy, too, and will select the most nutritious and tastiest leaves from the trees where they live.
7) These magnificent mammals get their name form an Aboriginal* term meaning, ‘no drink’. It’s believed this is because koalas get almost all their moisture from the leaves they eat, and rarely drink water.
8) But check this out – eucalyptus leaves are super tough and poisonous! Luckily for koalas, they have a long digestive organ called a cecum which allows them to break down the leaves unharmed.
9) Enjoy having a snooze? Well so do our furry friends! Koalas don’t have much energy and, when not feasting on leaves, they spend their time dozing in the branches. Believe it or not, they can sleep for up to 18 hours a day!
10) Although these beautiful creatures are protected by law, and not classed as an endangered species, their habitat is under threat. Sadly, around 80% of koala habitat has been lost to human homes, drought and forest fires.
How Can You Help
Support Save the Koala Month, a fundraising and awareness campaign for koalas that runs every September. You can take part by telling people about the plight of koalas and helping raise funds for their protection. Check out the Australian Koala Foundation for more details.
If you happen to live in an area with koalas, there a number of ways you can help.
Plant koala food trees.
Be careful not to hit any koalas while driving, particularly at night when they’re most active.
Keep dogs and cats inside at night to reduce the likelihood of attacks.