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Frequently asked questions


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How endangered is the Koala? Is it at risk of extinction? How many Koalas remain?

The Australian Koala Foundation’s (AKF) research indicates that the Koala is in trouble and that extinctions of local populations have already occurred. In contrast to the millions of Koalas which were thought to be present at the time of European settlement, the AKF believes that there could be less than 80,000 remaining today, possibly as few as 43,000. If this rate of decline continues then yes, the Koala is at risk of extinction. More information…

What specific Koala food trees for my area should I plant to enhance their habitat? There are Koalas on my property.

It’s great that you want to assist your local Koalas by planting suitable Koala food trees on your property. With Koala habitat now highly fragmented, it’s important to replant degraded areas to give Koalas a better chance of survival. The AKF has developed a guide to which trees you can plant, divided by Local Government Area (i.e. by local council area).

Are Koalas permitted to be kept as pets?

No, it is not permitted anywhere in the world. It is illegal to have a Koala as a pet anywhere, even in Australia. The only people who are permitted to have a Koala in their possession, besides suitably authorised zoos, are, occasionally, scientists, and the people who are taking care of sick or injured Koalas or orphaned joeys. These people must have a special permit from wildlife authorities to do this work and the carers must return the animals to the wild as soon as they are well enough or, in the case of joeys, old enough, to take care of themselves. Because of Koalas’ unique physiological and dietary needs, it is a specialised job to take care of them and requires training from people who have experience in doing it.  Koalas are wild animals. Don’t you think they are better off in the wild eucalyptus forests that are their natural home?

Where does the word ‘Koala’ come from?

‘Koala’ is thought to have meant ‘no drink’ in one of the Aboriginal languages. Koalas don’t need to drink very often because they get most of the moisture they need from eucalyptus leaves. However, they can drink from waterholes and creeks etc if necessary, such as in times of drought when the eucalyptus leaves contain less moisture than normal. There were many different languages spoken by Aboriginal people throughout the country, although some of those languages have been lost today, and the name for a Koala appears in diverse forms in the written accounts of early settlers (coming from Aboriginal language origins) as cullewine, koolewong, colo, colah, koolah, kaola, Koala, karbor, boorabee, and goribun. As you can see some of these words are somewhat similar in sound to ‘Koala’. Source: The Koala Book. Ann Sharp. David Bateman Ltd. New Zealand. 1995.

Why do some people call Koalas ‘Koala bears’?

Please don’t call me a ‘Koala bear’!
When Europeans first came to Australia, they thought that Koalas looked like bears so they were often called ‘Koala bears’. Koalas are not bears – they are marsupials and their correct name is ‘Koalas’.

What is the name (collective noun) for a group of Koalas?

There’s no collective noun for a group of Koalas moving around together because Koalas don’t move around in groups like dolphins or some birds. They are fairly solitary creatures, although they do like to be living in overlapping home ranges in bushland with other Koalas. We usually call these groups ‘Koala populations’ or ‘Koala colonies’.

What are the names for male and female Koalas?

Scientists often refer to a male Koala as a ‘buck’ and a female as a ‘doe’. A baby Koala is called a ‘joey’ .

How long do Koalas live? How old is the oldest known Koala?

In the wild in undamaged habitat, the average life span of a Koala is about 10 years. However, where habitat is damaged, such as in suburban areas, they may only live for a few months or years because of the dangers from cars and dogs. Males tend to have a shorter life span than females because of the stresses of fights during the breeding season and the fact that they tend to move around more than females in search of mates, thus putting them in increased danger from dogs and cars. One of the reasons Koalas don’t live a long time is because when their teeth get ground down from eating the tough eucalyptus leaves, they don’t grow back, so after a time, they can’t grind the leaves down properly and get enough nourishment from them. Because of the stresses associated with living in the wild, Koalas in the wild can have a considerably shorter life span than Koalas in zoos. Koalas in zoos and wildlife parks don’t have to travel any distance for food, they don’t have to face the same dangers as wild Koalas  and they get regular expert veterinary attention. The oldest zoo Koala that we know about was a female who lived to 23 years old at Lone Pine Sanctuary in Queensland. Her name was Sarah and she is in the Guiness Book of Records as the oldest known Koala. The oldest male Koala we have heard of was Tam Tam at Tama Zoo near Tokyo. He lived to 22.

How many hours do Koalas sleep each day?

Usually between 18 to 22 hours. They sleep a lot to conserve energy as their diet requires a lot of energy to digest.

Do Koalas have a backward-facing pouch?

The pouch is actually situated in the centre of the female’s abdomen and the opening faces straight outwards, rather than backwards. However, the pouch opening is towards the bottom of the pouch, so when the joey is larger and puts its head out of the pouch it  can appear that the pouch faces backwards.

Do Koalas get ‘drugged out’ on eucalyptus leaves?

No. There is a common misconception that Koalas get ‘drugged out’ or ‘high’ on eucalyptus leaves and that’s why they sleep a lot. This myth possibly arose as a way of explaining why Koalas sleep for up to 22 hours a day. They need more sleep than most animals because eucalyptus leaves contain toxins and are very low in nutrition and high in fibrous matter so they take a large amount of energy to digest. Sleeping for long periods is a strategy for conserving energy. Koalas and gliders are the only mammals which can tolerate the toxins in gumleaves but fortunately they don’t make them ‘high’ or ‘drugged out’.

Do Koalas smell like eucalyptus cough drops? Does eating eucalyptus prevent them from being affected by external parasites?

Yes, mostly Koalas do smell like cough drops or certainly a pleasant eucalyptus smell.   Mature males tend to have a stronger odour because of their scent gland and it can be a strong musky odour than eucalyptus. Juvenile males are more likely to give off a very slight eucalyptus smell.   Koala mothers teach their joeys how to eat different species of trees so they have a balance diet and yes, all these different leaves act like a natural insect repellent.   Very clever of Mother Nature.

How many species of Koalas are there?

There is only one species of Koala. However, there appears to be some difference of opinion amongst the scientific community about whether there are 2 or 3 sub-species (or ‘races’) of Koalas, or even if there are any sub-species at all.

There is a Koala in a tree on my property. What should I do?

Unfortunately, due to habitat destruction and the incursion of developments into existing  Koala habitat, many Koalas are now forced to live in the same places as humans.  Therefore it’s the responsibility of residents living in these areas to consider the Koalas’ needs and safety. More information…

There is a development/tree clearing happening in my area – what can I do?

Guidelines on what to do when Koalas are in danger in your area

What is the importance of having national parks for protecting Koalas?

National parks – and other types of protected habitat – are a great concept and can be very important for small pockets of habitat and wildlife. In Australia, however, only a tiny fraction of habitats are lucky enough to have this protection. These parks tend to be the more rugged and unusual areas less suitable for agriculture – whereas Koalas prefer the same fertile lands that people like for agriculture and urban development. Many national parks are small and isolated much like ‘islands’, suffer declining health (eg. weed invasion) and ‘trap’ Koalas in. Eighty percent of Koala habitat is situated on privately-owned land (eg. farmland), not in national parks. This is why the AKF wants legislation that will prevent people from cutting down habitat on their land and provide incentives for them to protect and manage habitat for Koalas and other wildlife. To support our efforts to ensure there is adequate and effective legislation to protect Koala habitat, click here.

What qualifications do I need to get a job working with Koalas & what training would I need?

There are many different jobs which allow you to work with Koalas and different training is required for different jobs.

Where can I go to see Koalas in the wild? If I were to see a Koala in the wild, would I be able to go up to it?

As the Koala’s range covers a huge area it’s not feasible to list all the places here. Click here for some suggestions and information about wild Koalas.

I saw a program on TV about a Koala ‘orphanage’. Where can I go to hold an orphaned joey?

The general public is not normally permitted to hold an orphaned joey and there are no “Koala orphanages” as such. Unless they are actually sick or injured, orphaned Koalas are most often hand-raised at home by individual wildlife carers who must have special training and a permit from wildlife authorities to carry out this work.

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