"You Can Call Me 'Cuddly' but Don't Call Me a 'Bear'!"
Everyone loves the Koala!
Another unique Australian marsupial, unlike the kangaroo that spends its life hopping around at ground level, the koala lives in the trees. To be a little more accurate gum trees.
The name Koala in itself is special, it comes from an early Australian aboriginal word which effectively means "NO DRINK". The aboriginals called it this because the koala gains most of its fluid from the Eucalyptus leaves. It eats and rarely drinks except in times of drought or there is not enough fluid in the gum leaves. Interestingly the koala is the only marsupial which can survives on eucalyptus leaves.
Koalas today are found mainly on the eastern states of Australia. They live in societies, just like us (humans), so they are normally found living in groups in larger eucalypt forests allowing for there population to expand. Koalas are very territorial and in very stable breeding groups. The trees provide the koala with food, shelter and places for social contact which will support them for the life.
Koala populations only increase if the habitat is suitable, clean and the area large enough to support their group. They are fussy eaters and have preferences for different types of gum leaves. The most important factor which makes the habitat suitable are the presence of tree species, usually eucalypts. But also some non-eucalypts trees that grow in particular areas in the right soils with adequate rainfall will suffice.
In Australia there are many, many types of eucalypts trees, but koalas will only eat a selected few. Koalas will spend time browsing in other trees but these are usually used just for sleeping or sitting and watch the world go by.
It is important to know that eucalyptus leaves are very fibrous and not high in nutrition and can be extremely poisonous to many animals. The koala copes because they have a very slow metabolic rate so food will remain in their digestive system for long periods of time, therefore allowing the koala to maximise the amount of energy it can extract. This also minimises its energy and they can sleep on a branch in the trees for between sixteen and eighteen hours a day in order to conserve energy.
Koala can eat 200 to 500 grams of leaves a day and their weight averages around nine kilos. Their fur is usually thick and ashy grey with a little brown in places. They do blend in well with their environment.
The koalas body, while cute, is lean and muscular. It has strong limbs which support its weight when climbing and it has a fantastic sense of balance. It is equipped with special paws that are adapted for gripping and climbing. Their fur is very thick which protects them from both high and low temperatures and it reacts like a 'raincoat' to repel moisture when it rains. Koalas also communicate by marking their trees with their scent.
Koalas breed around September to March each year and produce between five and six offspring in their life-time. Like the Kangaroo the joey after birth works its way to the pouch completely unaided. Young koalas drinks only Mums milk and stays in the pouch for the first few months. After about 20 weeks, the joeys eyes open and they take there first peek at the world.
You can find out more about the Aussie Koalas at: www.australian-wildlife.com/Koalas-information.html