Cute and cuddly-looking, they’re recognised around the world as a unique Australian icon, and for that reason they’re an important ambassador for habitat preservation.
Although in appearance they may look bear-like, Koalas are marsupial mammals, meaning they give birth to live young that develop in a pouch. When born, Koala joeys are without fur, blind and about the size of a jellybean. The joey uses their sense of smell and touch to make their way into the mothers pouch where they’ll attach to a teat and suckle milk. A Koala joey can stay in the mothers pouch for up to seven months and will often stick close to mum for anywhere between 1 and 3 years.
Koalas eat the fresh tips or new growth of eucalyptus leaves, and need about a kilogram’s worth of leaves each day. There is over 700 different varieties of eucalyptus, but of those only about 50 species are eaten by koalas as a food source. This often makes it tricky for these unique animals to get the nutrition they need. During times of drought when there is little or no rain, there is no fresh growth and koalas often have to travel further distances to find food and water.
Snooze the day away
Processing eucalyptus leaves is tough work, which is part of the reason you’ll often see Koalas having a snooze. Koalas are expert sleepers, and can spend up to 19 hours a day catching their Z’s. Sitting in a tree for such long hours could be quite painful. Luckily Koalas have a specially formed piece of cartilage to cushion their bum from uncomfortable tree branches.
Hold on tight
Getting a good grip is very important when the majority of your life is spent up high in the trees. That’s why Koala’s have five digits on their front paws – two of which act like our thumbs to help them hold firmly to branches and grasp food. On their back paws, two of their digits are fused together to help them groom and scratch.
Searching for a home amongst the gum trees
Koalas have had a tough go of it lately. Habitat loss remains the greatest threat to these beautiful marsupials. With suitable environments shrinking, and forests only able to support finite number of Koalas, populations are being fragmented, making it harder for Koalas to find food and breed. Disease and climate change events such as drought and bushfires have also had a devastating impact. That’s why Taronga is prioritising the conservation of Koala as an animal of utmost importance to the Australian landscape.
Come and meet us
Koalas can be seen at both Taronga Zoo Sydney and at Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo in the Australia precinct.
At Taronga, we believe that we not only have a responsibility but an obligation, both locally and globally, to protect wildlife and habitats that are increasingly under threat. Our Wildlife Hospitals at Dubbo and Sydney are also committed to the rescue and release of injured or ill Koalas. Taronga is proud to partner with multiple organisations such as Science for Wildlife and the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital to not only support and connect critical koala habitat, but to also establish critical breeding programs to protect the future of the species.