Koalas are marsupials and carry their young in a pouch. They are mostly nocturnal and these days live predominantly in tall eucalypt forests and low eucalypt woodlands of Eastern and South Eastern Australia. Their scientific name is ‘Phascolarctos cinereus’ with three sub-species being recognised. Phascolarctos cinereus victor in the state of Victoria , Phascolarctos cinereus cinereus in New South Wales and Phascolarctos cinereus adustus in Queensland Australia. The main difference between these animals is the length of their fur.The northern animals tend to have a thin coat being a hotter zone with koalas in the southeastern parts of Australia tending to have thicker and longer fur. The fur is grey or light brown in colour and can vary immensely with age, between individuals or in different regions.
Koalas are protected by law but the forests and trees they eat and live in are not. (It’s a bit like protecting a fish but not the water it lives in!). This is further complicated because these areas are often privately owned land. The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) has been very active in raising the awareness of this and other threats to koalas. The continual destruction of Koala habitat is the single biggest threat to these beautiful creatures.
Koala comes from Aboriginal languages and basically translated means ‘no drink’. Koalas rarely need to drink as they get most of the moisture they need from the leaves they eat but may also drink rarely from ponds and streams. They can eat up to1 kilogram of eucalyptus leaves a day though are known to graze on other native plants such as Wattles and Melaleucas. Australia wide, they eat a wide variety of eucalyptus tree leaves though in their particular area, tend to stay with only a few varieties native to that region. Some Eucalyptus tree varieties generally regarded as koala food trees include Eucalyptus tereticornis, Eucalyptus robusta, Eucalyptus parramattensis, Eucalyptus punctata, Eucalyptus microcorys and Eucalyptus ovata.
Eucalyptus trees don’t only provide leaves for food for Koalas but are also their homes. Koalas spend most of their time in trees and rarely venture down to the ground. This is just as well as many injuries and deaths are inflicted by dogs and cars. Koalas usually give birth to 1 young every year or two. Koala babies are known by several names including ‘joeys’ and ‘cubs’. The young stay with their mother for up to a year spending the first 6 months or so in the mother’s backward facing pouch. When born, koalas have no fur, are only 2 centimetres long and their eyes and ears are not yet open.
Koalas sleep for up to 20 hours a day and in the past people thought they were drunk from eating the gum leaves. This is of course not the case and it is generally now agreed that they sleep a lot because the leaves they eat take a great deal of energy to digest and are also low in energy. Koalas are fully grown at around 4 years old and grow up to 80 centimetres head-body length for males and to around 70 centimetres for females with larger animals generally occurring in southern parts of Australia. They live between 15 and 20 years in ideal conditions.