Known as: Koala, Koala Bear, Monkey Bear, Tree-bear (incorrect as koalas are not bears).
Estimated numbers left in the wild: 80,000 to several hundred thousand (controversial).
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Roly-poly and endearing, koalas are small, stocky, tree-dwelling marsupials which weigh anywhere from 5 kilograms to 14 kilograms, depending on sex and region. Females are smaller than males and koalas from the northern part of the species’ range are notably smaller than those from the south.
A thick layer of grey or greyish brown fur covers a koala, giving them a look similar to a plush toy. A large black nose with a keen sense of smell decorates the animal’s face, and its short, muscular limbs end in relatively large paws with two or three opposed digits. Koalas have fingerprints, which are almost impossible to tell apart from human prints.
The koala spends most of its time in eucalyptus trees, feeding on the leaves. Only two other species of mammals are known to be able to eat eucalyptus leaves. These marsupials spend a large portion of their lives aloft among the branches, holding on with their well-adapted paws and dozing up to 18 hours daily.
Due to the low nutritive value of the leaves, a koala eats a kilogram of them daily, obtaining most of its water needs from the foliage, too. The oils absorbed from their food source give these small mammals a smell like cough drops or medicinal throat lozenges.
Koalas are marsupials, meaning that they carry their babies in a special pouch. The young koala, or joey, rides in this pouch or on its mother’s back for close to a year. Koalas live for around twenty years in the wild.
The koala’s brain is uniquely shrunken within its braincase, probably due to its low nutrient diet. These animals are usually silent, though the male utters a bellowing cry during breeding season, which is audible for more than a kilometre. Koalas are most active right after the sun set, and fall asleep again in the later part of the night.
Koalas are found only in eastern Australia, where eucalyptus forests are widespread.
Habitat destruction is the chief threat today, since each animal needs around 100 eucalyptus trees to serve as its territory. Koalas can cross open ground to reach new trees but are vulnerable while doing so, possibly being struck by cars or attacked by domestic dogs or dingoes. Originally, koalas were hunted vigorously for fur and this resulted in a serious drop in their population by the early 20th century. Since hunting has become infrequent and reintroduction efforts were quite successful, loss of woodland cover has become the main menace to the koala.
The koala is such an iconic creature that it has attracted numerous conservation efforts, both governmental and private. Hunting koalas and keeping them as exotic pets are both illegal.
The Australian Koala Foundation is spearheading efforts to preserve and restore koala habitat, including working with local urban planning councils to ensure that development leaves the critical koala environment intact.
Australian Koala Foundation
The Australian Koala Foundation works to protect Koalas and their habitats through mapping, research, planting trees, partnerships to protect vital areas and educating the public.