They are cuddly, they are cute. They are iconic Australian. Yes, you are right, it is the Koala.
Despite being one of the world’s most adored animals, they are now officially in peril. In a rapidly changing, human-oriented world, koalas are the latest victim to man’s quest for lumber, minerals and urbanization. An iconic Australian national symbol, the sharp decline in the population of these tree-dwellers, has prompted the Australian Government to list koala as 'vulnerable'.
Bears they are not!
Did you know that Koalas are not bears? That’s right. Though often called koala “bear”, this cuddly animal is actually a marsupial - or pouched mammal and has in fact no relation whatsoever to the bear family. Unlike bears that eat meat, koalas live entirely on a diet of eucalyptus leaves.
Like other mammals, marsupials give birth to babies except that they are not fully developed before they are born. Marsupial babies – also known as joeys are born in an immature state and need to be nursed in their mother’s pouch for at least six months before they become fully developed. When the babies gets a little bigger, they ride on their mother’s back or cling to her belly to accompany her everywhere until they are about a year old.
Koalas are nocturnal - active at night and arboreal – living on trees. During the day they doze, tucked into forks or nooks in the trees, sleeping for up to 18 hours. They use their sharp claws to stay aloft.
The Eucalyptus nexus
Koalas are native of eastern Australia. They can be found where the eucalyptus trees are most plentiful. When not asleep, koalas constantly devour eucalyptus leaves. Amazingly these creatures hardly drink any water unless there are drought conditions or heat waves. They get most of the moisture they need from the eucalyptus leaves. Infact the name 'koala' is thought to have come from an Aboriginal word, kwala - meaning 'no drink'. They eat a lot. Each animal eats about two and a half pounds of leaves a day, quite a quantity for their size, wouldn’t you say? As if they can’t have enough of it, they can even tuck in a snack of leaves in pouches in their cheeks!
Eucalyptus trees are critical to the very survival of the koalas. Habitat destruction is the biggest threat to the koalas. Forests are disappearing fast in response to development in Australia. However the historic decision by the Federal Government to list the koala as vulnerable under the country’s national threatened species legislation should mean that the Australian government can impose conditions on plans for future mines, housing developments and timber operation to prevent habitat disturbance in koala areas.
Courtesy: National Geographic