A brief history of koalas

Find an Aboriginal legend about a Koala and include it in your project or read it to your class. Find out what it means to be a Protected Species. Does it mean the habitat is protected?

Koalas probably evolved over 25 million years ago in the forests which covered Australia at that time. Fossils of several extinct species of Koala have been found. These extinct Koalas were much larger than the ones today - they were like giant Koalas!

Koalas feature in many legends from the Aboriginal Dreamtime.

Some legends say that Koalas have power over the rains and that if people treat them with disrespect, there will be a big drought.

The word ‘Koala’ is thought to have come from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘no drink’ because Koalas obtain most of the moisture they need from gum leaves.

Koalas since European Settlement

In the days before Europeans came to Australia, there were many more Koalas than there are now.

Since European settlement in 1788, much of the Koala’s bushland has been cleared for farms, towns, roads, mines and logging, leaving many Koala populations with no homes or food.

From the early 1800’s until the 1920’s, millions of Koalas were hunted and killed for their furs. Many people were upset about this and protested to the government, and eventually the Koala was made a Protected Species in all states by 1937. This means that no one is allowed to harm a Koala. However, there are no laws to protect the gum trees which Koalas rely on for food and shelter.

John Price, a servant of Governor Hunter, was the first European to record Koalas on January 26 (Australia Day!) in 1798 during an expedition to the Blue Mountains.

In 1814, the Koala was given the scientific name phascolarctos cinereus, meaning ‘ash-grey pouched bear’, by French and German naturalists.

Today we know that the Koala is not a bear. It is a marsupial.

 "Koalas are our history and heritage. We should make it our business to make them our future as well." Crystal (14)