A trip to Healesville Sanctuary would not seem right without a Koala sighting. These gentle animals are loved by visitors.
We may be at risk of losing the large populations of Koalas that we have long expected to find in the bush. The greatest threat to Koalas is loss of habitat, cut down for agriculture or housing. Since European settlement, about 80% of their habitat has disappeared, and little of the remaining 20% is protected. A disease called chlamydia is also contributing to the Koala’s declining numbers. Koalas are listed as vulnerable nationally in relation to the populations of Queensland, NSW and the ACT. In Victoria, the status is listed as ‘near threatened’.
Koalas are found across the east of Australia, in coastal and inland areas from north-east Queensland to Eyre Peninsula, SA. In Victoria they are widespread in the low altitude forests and woodlands across central and southern mainland Victoria, and on Raymond, Snake, French and Phillip islands.
With their lean, muscular body and strong limbs, Koalas are well suited to life in the trees. Their front and hind legs are almost equal in length, with five-digit paws specially adapted for grip. Rough pads on the palms and soles and long claws on each digit help the Koala grip tree branches and trunks. On each front paw, two fingers act like thumbs to enable a tighter grip.
- Koalas’ fur is different according to their habitat. It is longer and thicker in the south, where winters are colder
- Koala vocalisation sounds like a combination of a loud snore and a burp, and is called a ‘bellow’
- The brain of a Koala of average size weighs only 17 grams
- Koalas are not bears! They are marsupials, and give birth to tiny, barely formed young who finish development outside the mother’s body, in a pouch
- Koalas are mainly nocturnal. They spend about 18–20 hours sleeping because their metabolism is slow, an adaptation for handling a diet that is low in nutrition and hard to digest