We all love the cute koala bear. It’s scientific name is Phascolarctos Cinereus and it is an arboreal, herbivorous, marsupial native to the country of Australia. It’s the only extinct representative of the family. Phascolarctidae and it’s closest living relatives are the wombats from the family Vombatidae. The koala is found inhabiting Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. It’s identifiable easily with it’s stout, tailless body, large head with round, fluffy ears, and a spoon-shaped nose. The koala has a length between 60-85cms and weighs between 4-15 kgs. The fur color ranges from silver grey to chocolate brown. Koalas from the northern areas are typically smaller and lighter in color than their southern counterparts. Koalas live in open eucalyptus woodlands and their diet comprises of eucalyptus leaves. As eucalyptus has inadequate nutritional and caloric content, koalas are sedentary, sort of lazy, and sleep up to 20 hours a day. They are not particularly social in nature and bonding exists only between mothers and their offspring. Adult males communicate and attract their mates through loud bellows. Males show their presence with secretions from scent glands present on their chests. As koalas are marsupials they give birth to underdeveloped young that crawl into their mother’s pouches where they stay for the first six to eight months of their lives. These young koalas are known as Joeys. Koalas, compared to other counterparts have very few natural predators and parasites but are threatened by many types of pathogens like the Chlamydiaceae bacteria and the koala retrovirus. Koalas were hunted by indigenous Australians and depicted in myths and cave art for a long time. Because of it’s distinctive appearance, the koala is recognized worldwide as a symbol of Australia. They have been listed as vulnerable by The International Union for Conservation of Nature. They were hunted heavily in the early 20th century for it’s fur. Because of large scale cullings, public outcry started leading to movements for their conservation. Among the many threats to their existence are habitat destructions caused by agriculture, urbanization, droughts, and bush fires.
The word ‘koala’ comes from ‘Gula’ used in Australian aboriginal language which means ‘no water’. It was thought since the animals were not seen to come down from trees very often that they could survive without water. And as the leaves of the eucalyptus tree had high water content they did not need much of it. But it was not true because of it’s resemblance to a bear; it was called a ‘Koala Bear’.
The koala is a stocky animal with a large head and no tail. It is the largest arboreal marsupial. Koalas of Victoria are twice as heavy as those from Queensland. The species are sexually dimorphic with males being 50% larger than females. Males have more curved noses and chest glands visible as hairless patches. The male koala has a bifurcated penis and the female has two lateral vaginas and two uteri. The koala’s claws are curved, sharp, and well made for climbing trees. The koala has one of the smallest brains in proportion to the body weight of any mammal weighing only 19.2 grams on average. Koalas are herbivorous. They tend to choose species that have high protein content and a low proportion of fiber and lignin. It has a reputation that it is a fussy eater but it has been seen to be more generalist than some other marsupial species like the greater glider. Because of the high water content in eucalyptus leaves, it does not need to drink often. Because they get so little energy from their diet they need to limit their energy use and sleep or rest for 20 hours a day. They are active at night. They typically eat and sleep in the same tree for as long a day. On very hot days, a koala may climb down to the coolest part of the tree which is cooler than the surrounding air. The koala hugs the tree to lose heat without panting. On warm days, a koala may rest with it’s back against a branch or lie on it’s stomach with it’s limbs dangling. During colder times it curls itself into a tight ball to conserve energy. They are asocial animals and spend only 15 minutes a day on socializing. They can live from 13 to 18 years. Their predators are Dingos and large pythons, birds of prey like owls and eagles. The koala retrovirus may cause koala immune deficiency syndrome (KIDS) similar to AIDS in humans. Dehydration and overheating too can also be fatal for their survival. It is also vulnerable to the effects of climate change and droughts. One virtually unknown risk to koalas is the presence of water in the lungs (Aspiration pneumonia) which can happen when drinking water from a bottle.
Koalas lost substantial portions of their habitat in the 2019-2020 bushfires and have been identified by the Australian government as one of 113 animals requiring urgent help. Volunteers, rescue organizations, and wildlife hospitals have stepped up to care for injured koalas with the goal of rehabilitating and releasing them back into the wild. There have been conservation efforts by the Australian Zoo to buy large tracts of land to set aside for koalas and state governments are also creating new koala reserves.
Koalas are really very cute creatures who fill our hearts with joy and who have been made into soft toys to spread the language of the cute. They are an endangered species and steps must be taken to preserve them. They belong to our precious treasury and we all must come together to give them more space for a healthy, secure, and free existence. Save a koala and it’s habitat today and be a hero. Be a savior and be blessed.