Koala’s are an Australian icon! And it was during my adventure down under in which I took in Adelaide Zoo and Australia Zoo, that I had the pleasure of going behind the scenes and meeting these sleeping balls of grey fluff with sharp claws!
In 2014, I also travelled to Scotland where the team at Edinburgh Zoo introduced me to their Koala’s, the only ones in the UK!
Despite what many may think, Koala’s ARE NOT BEARS! They’re marsupials that are only found down under in Australia, and there’s two subspecies of them. However, there is also a third subspecies which is currently being debated;
1 – The Northern Koala
2 – The Southern Koala
3 – The Victorian Koala (Being debated)
Northerner’s are smaller than their southern relatives and are also a light grey colour, with more prominent light ventral colouring.
Southerner’s have longer, thicker fur, they’re a darker, softer grey, often with chocolate-brown highlights on their back and forearms.
There’s two things Koala’s LOVE more than anything in the world;
1 – Eating!
Eucalyptus tree leaves or ‘gum leaves’ are a Koala’s favourite food! However, out of the 600 or so different kinds of Eucalyptus leaves there are, these fussy marsupials only like a few different types. They can certainly put it away though, with adults putting away up to one kilogram every night (because they’re mostly nocturnal)!
2 – Sleeping!
I thought I was lazy, but Koala’s will snooze for around 18 – 20 hours a day! For a long time there has been a myth that they sleep this much as eating so many gum leaves made Koala’s drunk. The truth is, Koala’s use a lot of their energy digesting their toxic, fibrous, low-nutritious diet, so sleeping in the best way for them to conserve their energy for when they need to move between trees in search of…you guessed it, more food!
The also have some pretty awesome features…they’re paws! On each front paw, they have 5 digits, two of which are opposed to the others, much like our thumbs are able to be moved differently from the fingers. This helps them to hold firmly onto the branches and to grip their food. The 2nd and 3rd digits on their hind paws are fused together to form a grooming claw.
Basic Koala Facts
They can live for around 20 years
Female Koala’s are mature at two years old
Male Koala’s are mature at three to four years old
A baby Koala is called a Joey
When Joey’s are first born, they are only about two centimetres long
Joey’s stay in their mothers pouch for up to eight months
Once out of the pouch, the baby will then ride on it’s mother’s abdomen or back!
The Joey will leave it’s mother’s home range between the ages of one and three, depending on when mum has another Joey.
Forest’s Can Only Take So Many!
Amazingly, a forest can only have a certain number of Koalas living in it! This is because available gumtrees can only feed a certain number of Koalas. This is called the forest’s ‘carrying capacity’!
Koala’s get Chlyamydia! This organism lives in the body tissues of most healthy Koalas. It’s believed acts as an inbuilt control mechanism to limit the population so that the trees are not over-browsed, ensuring that only the strongest and fittest animals survive to breed.
It can also make them sick which is brought about when they are stressed!
Not Many Left!
Very sadly, the Australian Koala Foundation estimates that as a result of the loss of their habitat, around 4,000 Koalas are killed each year by dogs and cars alone. Australia has one of the highest land clearing rates in the world and 80% of Koala habitat has already disappeared because of it!
Although Koalas themselves are protected by law, around eighty percent of any remaining habitat occurs on privately owned land and almost none of that is protected by legislation.
Thankfully, when I was in Australia, I was able to see how zoos like Australia Zoo are helping Koala’s thanks to their animal hospitals! Hopefully, as more awareness and funds are raised, these incredibly cute marsupials will be able to carry on being an Australian icon long into the future!