January 28, 2022

Everything you wanted to know about the koala bear

Blessed with an adorable face and small furry body that looks perfect for cuddling, Koala bears are among the most recognizable and best loved animals on the planet. They may also be among the most misunderstood, beginning with the fact that they are not bears. Koalas are marsupials, a group of mammals that have pouches, like kangaroos, where their newborns develop.

Koalas are natives of the coastal region on the eastern edge of Australia. They grow to be about 33 inches tall and weigh in at around 25 to 30 pounds. They have thick grey fur, strong clawed feet equipped with two thumbs and they tend to be chubby. Among their distinctive features are a round face, a large leathery nose, and large fluffy ears.

Koalas spend their time perched in eucalyptus trees munching the leaves and sleeping. Adult koalas put away more than a pound of eucalyptus leaves every day. Although the diluted and processed Eucalyptus oil is used to treat respiratory ailments and other health problems, fresh leaves from the trees are toxic for nearly every other living creature except koalas. The oil in the leaves can cause nausea, difficulty breathing, coma and death in humans. Just touching the leaves can cause a painful rash or blistering. But koalas have a digestive system with microbes that break down and flush out the toxins in eucalyptus.

When koalas aren’t pounding down eucalyptus leaves, they are usually sleeping. They spend, 19 to 22 hours a day, or 90 percent of their time sleeping in nooks of tree branches. The remaining 10 percent is devoted to eating. It is a common misconception that Koalas sleep a lot because they get high on eucalyptus leaves. They sleep to conserve their energy which they need to digest their rough, simple toxic diet.

Koalas tend to live solitary lives within social groups or colonies. They have home ranges which consist of a number of home range trees and food trees which make up the territory of an individual koala. But their home ranges tend to overlap with other koalas. Although they are careful not to encroach on each other’s food trees, in the overlapping trees there is some community.

A dominant male tends to manage a territory to ensure he has many females for mating. Males have a scent gland in the middle of their chests, and they secrete a strong musky smelling oil to trees and branches to mark the boundaries of their territory. If other males fail to respect scent markings, the dominant males will chase them away or challenge them to fight.

Koalas stay connected to their colonies through different bellows and calls. Males make a deep bellow with grunts to make their dominance and position clear. Females also grunt and scream warnings about predators to the colony. They also scream when they are confronted by aggressive males.

The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there were 10 million koalas in Australia before the start of the Koala fur trade at the end of the 19th century. Their numbers have since declined dramatically. Population estimates vary, but in 2016 scientists figured there were more then 300,000 koalas in Australia. A 2019 population assessment by the Australian Koala Foundation reported fewer than 80,000 koalas and warned that the real number could be as low as 43,000.

Koalas are threatened by urban sprawl and development that has razed and fragmented their natural habitat. New predators such as domestic dogs and cats and additional risks such as traffic strikes and brushfires also threaten koalas.
In 2012, Koalas were listed as a vulnerable species under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Conservationists have taken steps to protect Koalas such as establishing sanctuaries and organizing efforts to relocate Koala colonies. There have also been bridges and tunnels built over and under roadways to allow Koalas to cross safely.

Australians are now very protective of Koalas which are a symbol of the country. Although visitors to Australia all seem to want a photo of themselves holding and cuddling a koala to post on facebook, it is illegal for anyone other than a trained animal caretaker to hold a Koala in most areas of Australia. Many of the animals don’t like a lot of movement and change. It stresses them out. Restricting human access is part of the effort to protect the animals.