|Koala Phascolarctos cinereus|
February / March 2006
The Koala is distributed in eastern and southern Australia from Queensland round to South Australia. It is found in eucalypt forest and woodland.
They spend most of their time in the canopy where they feed on eucalyptus leaves showing a preference for Manna Gum, Swamp Gum, Blue Gum, Forest Red Gum and Grey Gum. There is little competition for this food since gum leaves are toxic but the Koala has bacteria in its stomach which make the leaves digestible. The leaves don't give much energy and take time to digest which explains why the Koala sleeps or rests for about 20 out of 24 hours.
|Koalas are marsupials and the female has a rear-opening marsupial pouch. The young Koala or "joey" begins to leave the pouch at 5 months and 2 months later has left it for good but still feeds partly off its mother's milk until it is 12 months old. At this stage it might be seen clinging to its mother's back or sitting on her lap.
From about the 1890s to the 1920s there was a large export trade in Koala skins to both Britain and the USA to such an extent that the Koala was in danger of becoming extinct. Fortunately, public opinion was mobilised and the trade stopped.
In an effort to save the Koala at the time, a population was introduced to Kangaroo Island, South Australia. These are now so successful that they are in danger of destroying the gum trees on which they depend for food so the conservation bodies are having to take some tough decisions.