Often referred to as a “Koala Bear”, this cute and loveable Aussie icon is, in fact, a marsupial and not a member of the bear family. They raise their young in a pouch, live on the leaves of eucalyptus (gum) trees and sleep an awful lot. They are the hippies of the animal world and creatures of the night.
I saw my first wild koala on Magnetic Island off the north Queensland coast nearly two decades ago and since then have had the privilege of volunteering with the Central Queensland Koala Volunteers and helping them fund-raise, record koala sightings, catch them and, on occasion, rehabilitate them back into the bush.
The wild koala is not docile and cuddly like the tame ones used for posing with tourists at zoos. They bite, scratch and put up one hell of a fight when caught for research purposes – taking measurements, weighing, health checks – and radio collaring so they can be tracked.
They thrived until Europeans arrived on this continent and then they were mercilessly hunted for their fur pelts. Being slow creatures, they were “sitting ducks” and were killed in their millions – mainly by poisoning and snaring.
Humans are still their biggest predator, mainly from habitat destruction (land clearance for agriculture and housing), car accidents and dog attacks. Their other big threat is from the disease Chlamydia which affects their eyes and urinary and reproductive tracks. But koalas are more prone to succumbing to the disease when they are under stress.
The great irony is that koalas are protected in Australia but their habitat isn’t and there may be fewer than 100,000 living in the wild in Eastern Australia from the Western Victoria border to North Queensland.
We supposedly love them yet don’t value them as we should and some say that it’s already too late for their long-term survival in suburbanised South-East Queensland. The koala may suffer the same fate as the giant panda and our grandchildren might only be able to see them in zoos. Check out: