All Koalas are native to Eastern Australia, ranging from Queensland all the way down to Victoria and a bit farther South. This area provides a perfect habitat for the Koalas who need lots of eucalyptus forest and woodlands to live since they are arboreal (tree dwelling) animals. Koalas are specially adapted for life off the ground, and only leave a tree to get to another tree which they cannot reach from the branches. Although some areas have cleared forest for human development, Koalas will still tend to stay in the same area which can put them in danger.
What are Koalas?
Koalas are tree dwelling marsupials native to East Australia that first evolved around 45 million years ago. At one-point in the historical timeline, Koalas were widespread across almost all of Australia. Koalas are unique compared to other marsupials because their pouch faces backwards on their bodies, opening close to their back legs, where most marsupials have front facing pouches. Koalas have other special arboreal adaptations such as super sharp, curved claws for holding on to tree branches, strong arms and legs for climbing, and they even have very hard bottoms. This hard behind helps them sit comfortably in the treetops for extended periods of time. Koalas lack good eyesight, so their large ears and excellent hearing make up for it. They also have an incredible sense of smell, which comes in handy to help detect other koalas and food.
Koalas are well-known for being very lazy, and this is due to their low energy diet. Koalas can sleep for up to 20 hours a day! They tend to be most active during the cooler times of the day such as dusk, night, and dawn. They spend most of their energy searching for food and eating. Koalas are solitary animals and choose to live their lives alone, except during mating season, and when a female Koala has a joey. Male Koalas will become quite vocal in the springtime to call potential mates and can become quite aggressive and fight with rival males. Koalas tend to communicate through scent and males have large scent glands which they use to rub on trees and mark territories. Koalas also communicate through bellows, which sound like loud, deep snores or even burps.
Koalas are herbivores and rely solely on plants for their diet. The most important food source for a Koala is eucalyptus, which is the primary food in their diet. Koalas will eat many different varieties of eucalyptus and need a very special digestive system to do it. Eucalyptus is very low in energy and contains very toxic compounds, similar to cyanide, that most other animals cannot eat. Koalas’ digestive systems can slowly breakdown the toxic compounds, but this takes a lot of energy to do so and contributes to the Koalas’ very slow and sleepy days. Thanks to the Koalas’ unique digestive system, they have access to an abundant and untapped food source that they have almost all to themselves.
Once a Koala is old enough to start breeding (around 3 years old), female Koalas will usually have one baby a year, called a joey. Mating season is the only time that Koalas will actively seek each other out, but they are quickly on their way apart after they have mated. Female Koalas have a gestation period of only 35 days! Short gestation periods are common among marsupials, as most of the joey’s development happens inside of the mother’s pouch. Joeys are normally born between November and February and are about the size of a jellybean with no hair or ears and are totally blind. Once born, they then climb to their mother’s pouch where they develop fully for the next 6 months. After the joey emerges, they will usually spend another 6 months to a year riding on their mom’s back and learning how to survive. After a year, they will begin to live on their own, but stay close to their mother for another year before leaving to find their own territory.
Koalas face several threats in the wild, the biggest being loss of habitat due to human development, vehicle strikes, wildfires, and climate change. Recently, wildfires have posed a huge threat to Koalas, especially in certain areas like New South Wales, where it is estimated that wildfires have destroyed 70% of some Koala populations. Koalas are also continuously being forced out of historic habitats due to major human development and destruction of wildlife areas. Because of this, Koalas are more likely to the harassed by humans and other animals like dogs, and also, they are much more likely to be hit by cars while trying to find new habitat. Many Koala populations are being split up due to human developments, forcing them into smaller areas where they are more likely to become regionally extinct. Climate change is also becoming a large threat as not only are more wildfires happening, but Koalas are struggling to adapt to more extreme temperatures.
After a drop in the Koala population from major wildfires and human development, in February of 2022 Australia proclaimed the Koala to be endangered in many parts of Eastern Australia. However, Koala populations continue to drop due to the rapid overdevelopment of their habitat. It is estimated that since the year 2000, Koala populations have dropped as much as two-thirds in some places. Koala populations need help immediately, and there are many ways to do that!
How to Help
The Koalas need your help! Here’s what you can do. Even if you don’t live in Australia, there are many organizations that are based in the country that are working hard to help the Koalas. These organizations rely on donations, any amount helps. Learn about Koalas! Many people may not know that Koalas are endangered and need our help, the more you learn, the more you can educate people on these amazing animals. Adopt a Koala! Many organizations, like ours, allow you to “adopt” a Koala and receive a little Koala that symbolizes your help. The proceeds go to organizations working to save Koala habitat! Finally, be more ecofriendly! Even if you don’t live around Koalas, helping the environment as a whole helps all species in danger. By picking up litter, avoiding using greenhouse gases, and avoiding toxic chemicals we can help stop climate change for all important species.