Not a bear!
Koalas can sometimes be referred to as ‘Koala Bears’ but they are not a bear at all! Koalas are a marsupial meaning they give birth to live, under-developed young that continue to grow in the mothers pouch while feeding on milk.
Due to their limited eucalypt diet that is low in nutrients, koalas can sleep between 18 – 20 hours a day! Digesting eucalyptus leaves requires a lot of effort, so napping is their way of conserving the energy required.
When they're not sleeping, Koalas spend their time eating just one thing: leaves from the Eucalyptus trees. There are over 700 Eucalyptus species occurring within Australia, however the Koala will eat leaves from fewer than 50 of these species. Most Koalas are capable of eating around 500g of leaves each day. They prefer the 'tip' of the branches, which is the juiciest and softest leaves. This also provides much of their water intake via moisture on the leaf.
Get a grip
Koalas have two opposable thumbs on each hand and foot. This makes for an extra hold on the branches when sleeping and moving around high up in the trees.
When a female Koala is ready to breed she will call out to a male by letting out a loud snorting bellow. The female generally gives birth 35 days after mating. When born, the joey weighs only half a gram and is the size of a kidney bean at about 2cm long. It stays attached to its mother’s teat for 13 weeks, its eyes are open at 22 weeks and it gains teeth at 24 weeks. At around the 7 month age bracket, the joey will start taking short spells climbing on its mother's back and is usually independent at about 12 months old.
In an increasingly cleared, developed and fragmented landscape, Koalas in the wild face a number of threats to their continued survival. The destruction and fragmentation of habitat means koalas are forced to spend time on the ground moving from tree to tree and this is where they are most vulnerable. Elevated stress makes koalas prone to disease and illness as well as the added threats of being hit by a car or attacked by dogs.
The ripple effect
Koalas are an integral part of the Australian bush. Protecting bushland and linking landscapes through the planting of wildlife corridors in an effort to save koala populations also protects the habitat of a wide range of animal and plant species such as possums, gliders, wombats, quolls, birds, and reptiles.
A home among the gum trees
Decline in Koala numbers will have a significant, irreversible impact on the biodiversity of this great southern land. As part of Taronga’s commitment to restoring fragmented Koala habitat, the zoo is collaborating with Greenfleet and partnering with the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative and Jaliigirr to facilitate tree planting that increases landscape connectivity.
Come and meet us
You can meet our Koalas in the Australian Walkabout at Taronga Zoo Sydney and Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo.