The koala is not a ‘bear’. It is a tree-dwelling, medium-sized marsupial with a stocky body, large rounded ears, sharp claws and variable but predominantly grey-coloured fur. Males generally are larger than females. Koalas are mostly nocturnal and often sleep for up to 18-20 hours each day to conserve their energy as the eucalypt leaf (their main diet) is so low in nutrients.
Distribution and habitat
The koala is native to Australia and is widely distributed from northern Queensland to west of Adelaide in South Australia. Koalas live in a range of temperate, sub-tropical and tropical forest, woodland and semi-arid communities dominated by eucalypt species.
A Koala’s main preferred diet is Eucalyptus leaves (they will also eat some other non-eucalypt and also eat bark, gumnuts, stems and flowers). There are over 900 species of eucalypt in Australia – koalas are known to feed on around 60 and prefer to limit their diet to about 10 types of eucalypt that naturally occur in their location. An adult Koala eats about ½ to 1kg of leaves each night. Koalas don’t normally have to drink water as they get most of the moisture they need from the eucalypt leaves except in prolonged hot conditions or drought when the moisture content of the leaves is low.
Life expectancy and breeding
Average lifespan in the wild is 15-18 years for females; 10-15 years for males. Younger breeding females usually give birth to 1 Joey each year. When the Joey is born, it’s only about 2 centimetres long, is blind and furless and its ears are not yet developed. The Joey stays in its mother’s pouch for about 6 or 7 months, drinking only milk.
VULNERABLE (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) – numbers decreasing.
Billabong Zoo, Port Macquarie NSW has a long established and world-renowned breeding programme.