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Koala Facts For Kids Of All Ages View fullsize

Posted by Jacob Hawthorne on

Are koalas endangered? Let's explore that and other fascinating koala facts for kids of all ages.

Who doesn’t love a koala?

I’d say the koala bear is up there with the panda or baby gorilla on the cuteness scale.

What determines cuteness, I suspect, is related very much to what we perceive as human qualities and likeness in these most beautiful animals.

Koala Meaning

While investigating the meaning of the word koala I discovered both generic and specific origins.

Phascolarctos is the generic name for koala. It comes from the Greek words phaskolos meaning pouch and arktos meaning bear.

What’s referred to as the specific name, cinereus, comes to us from Latin which translates as ash colored.

It follows then that a koala is an ash colored bear with a pouch.

Except of course that the koala is not, strictly speaking, a bear.

Koala Marsupial

The koala is an arboreal Australian marsupial, or pouched mammal.

Despite looking soft and cuddly, the thick, grey fur of the koala is actually quite course.

They’re also wild animals and are not kept as pets.

While small populations of koalas are kept in zoos and wildlife parks only their handlers are supposed to hold them.

In fact since January 1997 visitors to animal parks are no longer allowed to handle a koala.

However, a kind of compromise exists in some places where koalas are placed on a perch and, in some cases, may be patted or stroked by visitors.

Koala Communication

Did you know that koala’s have the ability to communicate with each other over long distances?

The male koala emits deep grunts to announce his physical position and social standing.

The other way a koala communicates is by marking trees with their scent as a way of warning potential rivals away.

Most likely these are trees in which they sleep and also obtain their food from.

Koala Habitat

Koala habitat is shrinking due to land clearing for the purposes of urban, industrial and rural development.

Nonetheless the koala can still be found in a range of habitats including the following:

  • Coastal islands
  • Tall eucalypt forests
  • Low inland woodlands

Koalas Diet

The koala is herbivorous meaning it eats plants.

However, in this case, the diet is very specific as the koala lives off a diet of eucalyptus (i.e., gum) leaves.

The good news is that, due to the relatively high levels of water contained in gum leaves, koalas rarely need to drink.

Koala Sleep Pattern

The typical view of a koala will see them clinging onto a tree trunk or branch, quite often asleep.

But why do koalas sleep so much?

It takes a lot of time and energy for the koala to digest the fibrous eucalyptus leaves in their diet. The most efficient way to do so is by sleeping for a massive 18 and 22 hours per day.

This is why the koala’s day is dedicated to two principal tasks.

  • Eating
  • Sleeping

Do Koalas Smell?

If ever you get really close to a male Juvenile koala you’ll likely notice a mild eucalyptus smell.

Mature males emit a stronger odor due to their fully developed scent glands, located on their chest, which they use to mark territory and attract females during the breeding season.

Koala Predators

A range of natural predators, which prey mostly on juvenile koalas, include the following:

  • Goannas
  • Dingoes
  • Wedge-tailed eagles
  • Powerful Owls
  • Pythons

Since European settlement feral animals, in particular wild dogs, are another threat faced by koalas.

However, the main threat to koala population is land clearing and resulting loss of habitat. It’s estimated that almost 50% of koalas die from starvation.

Most recently climate change has become a major concern for koala preservation.

Rising temperatures resulting from climate change are already stressing koalas during periods of excessive and sustained heat.

During 2019/2020 catastrophic bushfires across significant areas of Australia killed tens of thousands of koalas and destroyed large areas of habitat.

Koala Life Cycle

A baby koala is called a joey.

Extremely tiny at birth a koala joey comes into the world totally dependent upon its mother. Here’s what the little joey has to contend with upon entering the world.

  • It’s born blind
  • Has with no hair and no ears
  • Is only about the size of a jellybean

Immediately after birth the joey crawls into its mother’s pouch where it will remain, nourished and protected, for around six months.

Mother’s milk sustains the joey while in the pouch.

Apparently the joey also eats its mother’s stool.

As the stool contains gut bacteria it’s said to help prepare the joey for the eucalyptus leaves that will form its diet upon reaching adulthood.

At two years of age the female koala is able to mate and breed. With a gestation period of only 35 days the female koala will give birth, under reasonable conditions, once a year for the next 10 to 15 years.

The birth of twins, while possible, is rare.

Are Koalas Dangerous?

Koalas are, for the most part, as cute and docile as they appear.

However, they are not domesticated and, when approached unawares, koalas may lash out to protect themselves.

While not dangerous, unless they feel threatened, long, sharp teeth allow koalas to deliver a nasty bite.

And don’t underestimate those claws.

Designed for climbing up and down trees, a serious scratch from a koala could be problematic for unsuspecting tourists.

The only way you should pat a koala is under supervision in a wildlife park or zoo where the koala has become somewhat acclimatized to human touch.

The Koala In The Face Of Great Danger 

I photographed the koala at the top of this post near Cape Otway, off the fabulous Great Ocean Road in Australia.

Cape Otway is a lovely, though often windy part of the country. The region has large areas of eucalypt trees, including the type with leaves that constitute the diet of the koala.

In some parts of the country a loss of habitat has caused koalas to starve and die.

Bushfires, such as those that are currently ravaging large parts of Australia, can also have a disastrous effect on koala populations.

Koalas simply can’t tolerate more than three or four consecutive days of extreme heat when they’re likely to suffer dehydration and heat stress.

The problem is amplified at such times when moisture is drained out of eucalyptus leaves, from which most of the koala’s water is usually derived.

There’s a joke that’s sometimes told about drop bears. The fact is that, under days of extremely high temperatures, koalas can actually drop out of trees.

And that’s no joke!

Like humans, adult koalas catch chlamydia through sexual transmission.

However, younger koalas can become infecting by eating pap, the nutritious type of feces excreted by infected mothers.

Some populations show a one hundred percent infection rate, though it’s believed that the overall number of infected koalas around the whole country is closer to twenty percent.

While chlamydia itself usually won’t kill a koala it can cause significant health conditions, which can lead to death. These conditions include the following:

  • Infertility
  • Blindness
  • Pneumonia
  • Urinary tract infections

At the moment an extended course of antibiotics is required to cure an infected koala. However, there are some alternative methods of treatment that are currently being investigated.

This short post from National Geographic explains.

Let’s hope a cure for this terrible disease, which is believe to have entered Australia through the importation of infected livestock in the 1780’s, can be found soon.

Koala Preservation

While shrinking habitat and rising temperatures do threaten the long term survival of the species, more unusual problems occasionally arise which are just as devastating for koala populations.

Not long after I made the photo at the top of this post koalas at Cape Otway experienced a devastating situation.

An abundance of food resulted in a dramatic increase in local koala population, which tourists loved.

Unfortunately, the growing population of koalas depleted the food supply to an event that they faced starvation.

This fact was evidenced in large areas of denuded trees and supported in this article from ABC news online.

More recent news reports have suggested that, with a more sustainable koala population in the Cape Otway region, the trees are now making a slow, but steady come back.

This story illustrates the offer delicate balance between wildlife and habitat.

Likewise the balance between the natural and man-made world will underpin our survival into the future.

It’s important that we strive to better balance our wants and desires with the laws that underpin the natural world.

It sounds like a huge task, but every marathon begins with a single step.

Supporting koala preservation is an example of how to make a real and positive contribution to building a kinder and better world.

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