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The Koala

Australia's most popular and most loved marsupial mammal

       You may consider a Koala to be a bear, but it isn't. Having round fuzzy ears, a big nose, not much   of a tail and thick, soft fur, many have thus associated it with true omnivorous bears. Thousands even call it a bear but a koala is actually not a bear at all. It is a distant cousin to the Wombat and both the Koala and the Wombat have fossil history over 15 million years. Possessing strong claws allows the koala to be suitably adapted to climbing. Another trademark of the koala is their slow movement which prompts people to regard koalas to be lazy animals.

        The Australian Aborigines named this strange animal "koala", meaning "No Drink", as it obtains its water needs almost solely by consuming the eucalyptus leaves, whereby an adult koala consumes around 1.1Kg of these leaves in one night. Koalas are by nature not very social animals, in real life Koalas are not the most friendly little critters, if you try to touch them, they will often  attempt to bite or claw you. However, if you do rarely succeed in picking one up, you may find them peeing all over you in fright. Living scattered throughout the trees, they make contact with other koalas only during breeding season, in about the only time they make noise. On summer nights, males bellow in loud choruses to tell others where they are.

        The koala is believed to have the most elaborate specialization of plant eating ever developed in a mammal, choosing only specific types of eucalyptus leaves. Other animals cannot digest the oils and poisons in eucalyptus leaves, but the Koala's digestive system has evolved to accommodate this, only this. This delicate body chemistry makes it remarkably vulnerable to bacteria and viruses. Without the eucalyptus leaves, it can never thrive. Seasonally, some sprouts are  so poisonous even for the koalas, that they have to turn to another kind of the eucalyptus trees. They do so mostly at night when they are most active.

A koala clinging onto a branch, showing of its superior climbing skills, aided by its body structure that is meant for climbing.


      The aforementioned weakness in the koala’s particular dieting needs, coupled with its low birth rate, slow ways, refusal to hide by day and its fur having great desirability drove the koala to the brink of extinction between the 1920s and the 1930s. The fact that the general ignorance among people of the world towards wildlife conservation, logging, trapping and epidemics at that period of time, did little to help the koala’s bid for survival. Fortunately, the Australian government realised the significance of the koala and passed laws to prevent poaching of the animals. Several plans and conservation programs had been implemented and enjoyed much success thereafter to reverse the declining trend. Meanwhile, the Australian government is relocating koalas in from certain regions due to the lack of eucalyptus trees in that part of Australia.

A Brief History ...

        There were once several different kinds of koala -- all but one of which had died out. The earliest known member of the koala family was a browser, which lived 15 millions years ago. Evidence of a 'giant' koala, twice the size of its modern descendant, exists in fossils dating back more than 40,000 years.

     The sequence of koalas in the fossil record:

  15 million years ago: Perikoala palankarinnica
  10 million years ago: Litokoala kutjamarpensis
  5 million years ago: Koobor notabilis & Koobor jimbarratti
  0 million years ago: Phascolarctos cinereus & Phascolarctos stirton
  1798, January 26: The 1st record of a koala being seen by an European, named John Price.
  1803, August 21: The first detailed account of a koala was published in Sydney Gazette.
  1816: the French naturalist de Blainwill gave the koala its scientific name, Phascolarctos, from the Greek words for 'leather pouch' and 'bear'. Later, the German naturalist Goldfuss gave it the specific name cinereus, meaning "ash-coloured", after the color of the original specimen.

-- From: Koala Handbook by Simon Hunter --

    History of the name: "koala"
        In their history of the koala, Tom Iredale and Gilbert Whitley (1934) suggest that the common name "koala" was derived from an Aboriginal dialect of eastern New South Wales. Ronald Strahan, in 1978, lists cullewine, koolewong, colo, colah, koolah, kaola and koala as published dialectal variations of the name in that region, "complicated by problems of transliteration and printers" errors. The early settlers referred to koalas as sloths, monkeys, bears, and even monkey bears, adopting the unfortunate practice of transposing the names of animals which were already familiar to Europeans to Australian look-a-likes. The virtual absence of a tail, together with their stocky build and their relatively long legs, gives the koalas a bear-like appearance, and undoubtedly led to their being referred to as, "koala bears", or, "native bears".