Unformatted text preview: Department of Environment
and Heritage Protection Koalas
Scientific name: Phascolarctos cinereus
Genus: Phascolarcto – phaskolos
meaning pouched; arktos meaning
bear (derived from Greek)
Species: cinereus meaning ashy-grey
(derived from Latin) Conservation status
Under Queensland’s Nature Conservation
Act 1992, koalas are listed as ‘regionally
vulnerable’ in the South East Queensland
bioregion (New South Wales border to
Gladstone, and west to Toowoomba).
Outside of this bioregion, the koala is ‘of
least concern’ (common) in Queensland,
but are still totally protected.
in the national context, in 2012,
the Commonwealth Governement
listed the koala as ‘vunerable’ in
Queensland under the Environmental
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation
Act 1999 (Commonwealth). Description
Koalas have a large round head with
big furry ears and a stout body.
They are covered in grey-brown fur with
white fur on the chest, inner arms, ears
and bottom. Their nose and the palms of
their paws have no fur.
Koalas have poor vision and rely
heavily on their other senses. Koalas
have good hearing which helps them
detect predators and other koalas.
Their large black nose gives them an
acute sense of smell and helps them
detect other koalas and find their
favourite food trees. The male uses a
scent gland on his chest to mark trees
by rubbing the gland up and down the
trunk. The gland oozes a clear, oily,
and strong smelling liquid. Koalas are marsupials,
a subclass of mammals.
They belong to a unique
family called Phascolarctidae.
They are different from any
other living marsupial and
are the only animal in this
family. Their closest living
relatives are wombats. #30183 October 2012 Koala ...strong environmental management
supporting sustainable economic development Department of Environment
and Heritage Protection Koalas
Habitat and distribution A matter of size Male and female koalas Koalas live in a range of open forest and
woodland communities but their range
is defined by the presence of a select
group of food trees, chiefly eucalypts.
Koalas are found in higher densities
where food trees are growing on more
fertile soils and along watercourses.
They do, however, remain in areas
where their habitat has been partially
cleared and in urban areas. Fur colour depends on the geographical
location of the koala. Koalas in
Queensland are smaller, less furry
and lighter in colour than koalas
in southern Australian states.
Queensland’s female koalas on
average weigh between 5 to 6 kg and
males weigh between 6 to 8 kg.
In Victoria, the average weight of a
female is 8.5 kg and a male is 12 kg. A male koala’s head is about 1.5 times
bigger than a female’s. Males have larger
noses and their chins protrude further.
Males also have a large scent gland
which shows as a dirty patch on their
white chest. This gives them a strong
musky odour. The distribution of koalas covers much
of Queensland, New South Wales and
Victoria, and a small area in South
Australia. Over the past 200 years,
koala distribution does not appear
to have reduced, however, individual
koala populations have declined.
Local extinctions have occurred due to
clearing and fragmentation of eucalypt
woodlands and forests for agriculture
and human settlement. Fossil records
indicate that many years ago, the koala
inhabited parts of Western Australia and
the Northern Territory. There are no fossil
records of koalas ever living in Tasmania. Diet In Queensland, the greatest
concentration of koalas is in South East
Queensland where they now compete for
space with a rapidly growing population
and high demand for development. CAIRNS TOWNSVILLE
MT ISA MACKAY
WARWICK Estimated distribution of the koala in Queensland. Koalas only eat certain eucalypt
leaves and a few other related species
such as melaleuca, callistemon and
lophostemon. They need to consume
about 500 grams (approximately two
shopping bags) of leaves each day.
Most other animals (excluding a range
of insects) avoid eucalypt leaves due to
the toxic oils they contain. Compared to male koalas, females
have a clean white chest and a pouch.
The backward facing pouch protects
the young while its mother climbs and
travels from tree to tree. It also gives
the joey easy access to feed on pap.
Pap is special runny faeces produced
by the mother koala which is full of
the bacteria that a joey will need to
properly digest leaves when it is older. Koalas are able to break down the
toxins using a specialised digestive
system. They grind the leaves with their
teeth into a paste by using their heavily
ridged molars. Nutrients are absorbed
in the stomach, while the toxins are
isolated by the liver and excreted
as waste in the urine and faeces.
Any residue is then broken down by
bacteria in an elongated, coiled sac
(the caecum) that branches off the
large intestine, allowing any remaining
nutrients to be digested.
As their specialised diet of eucalypt
leaves is low in nutrients and energy,
koalas are fairly sedentary, sleeping
up to 20 hours a day. Koalas are
mostly active at night (nocturnal) and
around dawn and dusk (crepuscular).
However, they can be seen moving
during the day if they are disturbed,
become too hot or cold or need to
find a new tree.
Female koala (top) a male koala (bottom). Department of Environment
and Heritage Protection Koalas
Claws for climbing Behaviour Koalas are considered arboreal
(tree dwelling) mammals; however,
they usually walk on the ground to get
to another tree. Koalas are solitary animals that live
within a network of overlapping home
ranges, which allows contact between
individuals for mating. Males will try
to establish dominance over the home
ranges of a number of females during
the mating season. These home ranges
vary in size depending on the density of
the population and the abundance of
suitable food trees. When koalas are on the ground,
they amble awkwardly but can break
into a quick gallop when disturbed.
Koalas have strong arms and legs and
large feet with sharp claws for climbing.
They have two opposable thumbs
on their fore paws which gives them
a better grip. This is essential for
climbing tall trees.
When climbing, koalas grip the trunk
of a tree with both arms and pull
upwards while pushing with their
legs. This leaves behind characteristic
scratches in the bark of gum trees—
clearly seen on smooth-barked
gums (pictured bottom right).
Stringybarks regularly climbed by
koalas, will have the outer layer of
weathered bark scratched away,
exposing the fresh layer beneath. In spring, adult males begin to
call to advertise their presence to
surrounding koalas. Males will seek
out a mate and fight with rival males
to establish their dominance. Reproduction and lifecycle
Males begin to breed at three to four
years of age. Females breed when they
are two years old, generally giving birth
Following a pregnancy of 35 days, a
koala will give birth to a single young
(rarely twins). Births usually take place
between November and February.
The young koala will stay in the pouch
for the next six months. Between the
age of six and 12 months the joey will
spend time riding on its mother’s back.
By 12 months of age, the young is
weaned and takes up a home range,
which overlaps with its mother, for much
of the next year. Between the age of two
and three years, these young disperse
beyond their original home range to
establish their own range, usually during
the breeding season. Females can breed
through their entire life span.
On average, koalas live to 10 to 12 years
of age in the wild. Although females
can live as long as 18 years, males are
thought to have a slightly shorter lifespan. Koala front paws (top) and hind paws (bottom). Koala scratches on a grey gum (Eucalyptus major) Department of Environment
and Heritage Protection Koalas
In developed areas, koalas have to
overcome many threats to survive. Habitat clearing
Loss of habitat includes loss of food and
shelter. It is also a major cause of stress
in koalas which can lead to disease. Cars
After habitat clearing, the most serious
threat to koalas is death due to vehicle
hits. In South East Queensland, about
300 koalas are killed each year by
motor vehicles; although many more
deaths would have been unrecorded*. Disease
In South East Queensland, disease kills
an average of 240 koalas each year;
however many more deaths would have
been unrecorded. For example, during
times of stress, koalas are prone to
outbreaks of the disease Chlamydia*.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection which
affects almost all koalas in South East
Queensland. The disease weakens the
immune system, so that any additional
stress can lead to further health
problems, including blindness and
female infertility. In severe cases, it can
cause death. Infertility from Chlamydia
is a contributing factor to the decline in
koala numbers. Pools
Koalas drown in swimming pools when
they are looking for water to drink.
Although koalas can swim, if there are
no assisted ways for a koala to climb
out they will eventually drown. What you can do to
• Keep dogs inside or tethered in
your backyard. • Plant and retain koala food trees. • Drive slowly in koala areas. • Install:
a tethered rope with a float
(or a used milk bottle) to help
the koala climb out of a pool, see
a tight pool cover
a koala proof pool fence, or
a pool with a beach access. Dogs
An average of 80 koalas are killed each
year in South East Queensland after being
attacked by dogs, with approximately
70 per cent of koalas admitted to a
hospital dying from their injuries*.
Many dog attacks go unreported so the
number of deaths due to dog attacks is
likely to be even higher.
* This information is sourced from the Koala
Hospital and carer records kept by the Department of
Environment and Heritage Protection. Tethered rope with a float to assist koalas climb
out of pool Koalas are under threat in
many areas across
Australia. The situation in
South East Queensland is
As Australia’s fastest growing
region—attracting 55 000
new residents each year—
South East Queensland’s
urban growth is putting even
more pressure on koalas.
Every day they are under
increasing threat from habitat
loss, cars, dogs and diseases. ...
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