Often mistakenly called ‘Koala bears’, koalas have recently been uplisted to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
Koalas are marsupials, and are the only living species in their family, Phascolarctidae, wombats are their closest living relatives. As marsupials, they give birth to underdeveloped young that crawl into their mothers’ pouches, where they stay for the first six to seven months of their lives. Notoriously koalas eat almost exclusively leaves from Eucalyptus species, a very low energy food source. Because they get so little energy from their diet, koalas must limit energy use and sleep around 20 hours a day. The recent uplisting of the koala has led to its conservation attention being revaluated. They are threatened by a continued habitat destruction, fragmentation and modification, but also more unconventionally by infection by Chlamydia causing bacteria, and also the koala retrovirus, which may cause koala immune deficiency syndrome (KIDS). Introduced predators such as feral cats and dogs, human hunting and vehicle strikes, further endanger koalas.
- Order: Diprotodontia
- Family: Phascolarctidae
- Population: 100,000-500,000
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: 60-85 cm
- Weight: 4-15kg
The Koala is endemic to Australia, found in north eastern, central and south eastern Queensland, with patchy populations in western areas, eastern New South Wales, Victoria and south eastern South Australia.
Habitat and Ecology
Koalas’ inhabit forests and woodlands, typically dominated by eucalyptus species. They have a highly specialised diet, mostly limited to leaves of Eucalyptus species, though with occasional intake of leaves of other plants. At high population densities koalas can defoliate preferred tree species, causing tree death and subsequent koala population crash.