The arboreal Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is one of nature’s oddities. These solitary specialists subsist on a diet of eucalyptus foliage – leaves that contain enough toxins to kill most other animals. Koalas have slow metabolic rates, sleeping 18 to 22 hours each day to conserve energy. Breeding is seasonal and the males’ bellowing territorial calls can be heard reverberating through the treetops particularly from October to March.
The Koala’s closest living relative is the wombat. Like wombats, Koalas have backward-facing pouches and hard bottoms. Wombats use their hard rumps for defence, but Koalas use them to remain comfortably wedged in tree forks for long periods of time.
In southern Australia, Koalas are most abundant in lowland sclerophyll forest and woodland, with inland distribution limited by rainfall, temperature and leaf moisture content. Koala populations are patchily distributed along Australia’s east and south coasts and hinterlands, from the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia to north-eastern Queensland with some translocations beyond the species’ pre-European range (for example, Kangaroo Island).
In December 2021, the conservation status of the Koala (NSW, ACT and QLD combined populations) was changed from Vulnerable to Endangered, a more serious conservation status reflecting the species’ increasing extinction risk.
Interacting threats propelling the Koala population towards extinction include habitat loss and fragmentation, inappropriate fire regimes, climate change impacts, disease, and feral dogs and cats. Many of the populations in New South Wales and Queensland are now in decline. The 2019–2020 catastrophic bushfires are estimated to have burned 9% of habitat (in NSW, ACT and QLD) where the Koala is known or likely to occur, ranging from <1% in drier inland areas to 30% in temperate coastal forests (DAWE 2022).
Protecting the Koala requires protection of Koala habitat (particularly from major threats like land clearing and intense wildfire). AWC’s new sanctuary is located in an area of regional Koala significance and there are exciting opportunities to survey, protect and enhance populations of the Endangered species and many other forest-dwelling animals and plants.
DAWE (2022) National Recovery Plan for the Koala: Phascolarctos cinereus (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory). Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Canberra. March 2022. CC BY 4.0.
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