Australian Fauna: The Koala

Phascolarctos cinereus, commonly known as the koala, is native to the eastern and southern areas of Australia. The koala, along with the platypus and the kangaroo, has become known around the world as one of the Australia's iconic wildlife symbols. After being hunted extensively for its fur in the early 1900s, the koala faced a serious threat of extinction from which it has not recovered. Today, koalas are still threatened by the loss of habitat to urban encroachment, climate change, fire and disease, along with increased road and dog attack fatalities.

Koalas, sometimes erroneously labeled “koala bears” because of their bear-like features, are actually marsupials, meaning that after they are born, the young are carried in the mother's pouch during the first months of life. The koala has a stocky rounded body and sports light brown to gray luxurious fur. Large padded paws with opposing digits on both front and back are of great benefit, as these animals spend most of their time in the branches of trees. When they come down to earth, they move about on all fours. One of the unique and interesting facts about koalas is that they feed almost solely on the leaves of the eucalyptus, with foliage from only a few other trees supplementing their diet. The koala cheek pouches and digestive system are specially adapted to use the nutrition, while minimizing the harmful effects of poisons contained in eucalyptus leaves. As a result of their slow metabolism and low protein, high fiber diet, koalas spend 18-20 hours of their day sleeping or resting.

As the Australian government struggles to balance wildlife sustainability with the needs its people, there are widespread conservation, preservation and research efforts underway across the areas of koala habitat. The iconic koala continues to walk a fine line between depleted numbers that can lead to extinction, and over-population which can in itself destroy the forests that sustain it.

The Internet offers a diverse mix of resources about koalas, from classification, ecology and conservation to image and video galleries that allow up-close and personal study of their appearance and habits. To learn about the koala:

  • Photos & Videos: Arkive offers 30 images and 15 videos of koalas.

  • Australia's Living Icon: All about the koala--history, distribution, habitat, diet and much more.

  • The Koala: Facts about koalas from the San Diego Zoo.

  • Fast Facts: Overview of the Koala, with map of native range.

  • Phascolarctos Cinereus: The Natural History Notebooks entry about koalas with image gallery from the Canadian Museum of Nature.

  • Koala Preservation Society: Online home of the Koala Hospital, Port Macquarie, NSW, Australia.

  • Urban Landscapes: Koala urban ecology from the Integrative Ecology Lab at the University of Queensland, Australia.

  • Queensland Koala: Site that highlights researchers and their koala research projects, like the Koala Listening Project.

  • Koala Fact Sheet: Is the koala a bear? Where do koalas live? What do they eat? Answers to these questions and more.

  • Physiology of Koalas: Ecology, morphology, metabolism, teeth and digestion are all documented here.

  • About the Koala: A page about the basics of scientific classification, ecology and conservation of the koala, along with some fun facts.

  • Lone Pine Sanctuary: All about the first and largest koala sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia, and the koalas and other wildlife they care for and protect

  • Koala Watch: Internet home of Friends of the Koalas on Phillip Island, Victoria. Information about the koala and what's being done for the island's koala population.

  • Early History: A brief history of the early koala ancestors and background of the name koala.

  • Koala Video: About the koala, with a short video of from the Los Angeles Zoo.

  • Koala Information: How to report a koala sighting and the Gold Coast City koala distribution and conservation efforts.

  • Healesville Sanctuary: The koala page from the Healesville Sanctuary outside of Melbourne, Australia.

  • Redland City: Information about providing a safe and inviting backyard environment for Australia's largest population of urban koalas in the Redlands.

  • Photo Gallery: Lots of koala images from the NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service.

  • Koala Bio: Extensive information about the koala at the Animal Diversity Web from the University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology.

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Vets: Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth
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