Koala

Phascolarctos cinereus

Conservation status: Vulnerable

The koala is endemic to Australia and found on the eastern and southern coastlines of the continent from south Australia to north-eastern Queensland.

The Endangered Koala and Joey

Koala

Phascolarctos cinereus

Conservation Status
Australian Government Endangered.

In February 2022 the Koala was listed as ‘ENDANGERED‘ in QLD, NSW and ACT under the EPBC Act.

 

Habitat and Range

Koalas are found in a range of woodland habitats in climates that range from semi-arid to temperate to sub-tropical. In this region there are two main populations, one in the Sarina Range and one at Eton, although they were previously much more widespread. Home ranges vary from 100 ha in very dry areas such as central Queensland to as little as 10 ha in coastal areas. They tend to change trees only a few times each day except for dispersing young males who may move several kilometres including crossing disturbed land and roads.

Koalas are endemic to Australia, in Queensland their range extends inland to the mulga lands, Channel Country, and Mitchell Grass Downs bioregions. Locally several introduced populations occur on islands off the coast of Mackay including Brampton, St. Bees, Newry, and Rabbit.

Diet

Although koalas feed mainly on eucalypts, they may at times supplement their diet with a range of bloodwood or box species (e.g. swamp box). Across their range they have been observed consuming, or sitting in, up to 120 species of different trees, however they will only consume a portion of these and individual koalas usually limit their diet to one or two key species within their local area. For example, 90% of the diet of koalas on St. Bees Island is Queensland blue gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis).

While a koala’s diet of eucalypt leaves is high in dietary fibre, it has a low nutritive value and high toxicity. The koala receives only a small amount of energy from its diet and tends to sleep for up to 20 hours a day.

Reproduction

Koalas can breed at almost anytime of year but mainly occurs over summer and autumn. Reproduction is also affected by climatic changes with a considerable reduction in births in drought years (followed by rapid recovery within a few years of the return to non-drought conditions). In the wild, koalas live for 12 (male) to 15 years (female) respectively with breeding beginning around six years of age. One young is born per year and newly born koalas remain in the pouch for around six to eight months. When they emerge they remain dependent on their mother until about 12 months of age.

Description
Koalas are an arboreal marsupial with a backward-facing pouch to protect Joeys from scratchy tree bark. Queensland Koalas are smaller in size (6.5 kg) compared to their Victorian counterparts (12 kg) and have shorter fur.

Did you know: koalas have unique nose markings that are different for each individual

Koalas have relatively poor vision and rely more on their keen sense of hearing and smell. Their call is distinctive and varies from the distinctive male bellow most often heard during the mating season to low grunts and squeaks. The low frequency of the bellow sound means it can travel long distances and through dense vegetation. Their refined sense of smell assists them to differentiate between leaf species, including toxicity, and to detect scent markings of other koalas.

Koalas are superbly adapted for life in the canopy. Their paws are adapted for gripping and climbing with both front and hind paws having opposable digits and rough pads to aid grip. Their limbs are long and muscular, and their thigh muscle joins the shin much lower than in other mammals, which provides additional strength. They have very little fat and are mainly muscle.

Did you know: koalas are the only non-primates with fingerprints

Did you know: The koala’s closest living relative is the common wombat.

Known threats include

  • Habitat loss and fragmentation
  • Vehicle strike
  • Predation by domestic and wild dogs
  • Altered fire regimes
  • Diseases such as chlamydia (which reduces fertility) and Koala Retrovirus
  • Climate change – warmer and drier conditions forecast across part of their range will cause range contraction. Increased atmospheric CO2 will cause eucalypt leaves to lose protein and increase tannin – reducing their quality as a food source.

What can I do?

  • Avoid clearing trees or aim to retain tree-patch connectivity to provide fodder and habitat species for koalas as they migrate across the landscape.
  • Increase tree planting on your property, especially in areas that connect patches of remnant vegetation, with a particular focus on koala-friendly tree species
  • Maintain suitable grazing regimes that allow some tree regeneration in paddocks.
  • Fence off areas of trees to allow recruitment of seedlings.
  • Implement suitable fire regimes to maintain koala habitat.
  • Control domestic and wild dogs on your property
  • Report any sightings of koalas using the link at the bottom of the page

 

Resources

Koala Tree Species

Biocollect App for Koala Mapping

Further information
National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy 2009-2014
ALA

Photo credit Cahrley geddes