Koalas

Back to another of the big hitters of Australian wildlife, the koala. While not quite as iconic as kangaroos, they’re certainly up there – and probably snoozing in a tree. And that’s no exaggeration as they sleep for about 18-20 hours out of every 24. This is because they’re very fussy eaters, and only like a relatively few species of eucalyptus that are very low in nutrients. Consequently they minimise their metabolism and spend a lot of time digesting those almost inedible gum tree leaves. They’re not quite in the same league as giant pandas, but you do wonder what evolution might have in store for them, quite apart from the usual issues of habitat loss etc.

We don’t get koalas around us in Eltham – I’ve spoken to locals who have very occasionally seen them in their gardens a long time ago. There was a colony down around Pound Bend in Warrandyte, but apparently these died out in the great drought around 2000.

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It’s a myth that they’re almost permanently drunk from fermented eucalyptus leaves, although given the state some of them sleep in you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. It’s also a myth that they’re bears – they are (of course) marsupials.

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The nearest place to us where you can reliably see koalas in the wild is down on Cape Otway on the Great Ocean Road. In fact we’ve never seen them anywhere else – although they are pretty hard to spot. They’re a uniform grey that blends in very well with gum trees and they really don’t move much. They usually sit in the bottom of forks in tree branches, but generally the easiest way to spot them is to find some other tourists looking and pointing upwards!

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Apart from sleeping the other thing they do really, really well is be cute and cuddly. It’s illegal to cuddle a koala in Victoria and several other states, although you can in Queensland and there are certainly places where you can get a selfie with one around here. Victorian koalas are twice as big as their Queenslander cousins though, so you might have to trade off size for cuddle-ability. In fact they’re so cuddly that they’ve given their name to a style of international diplomacy. I only hope the poor koalas weren’t too traumatised…

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Here’s a little one, having a snooze with an ant. Cute!

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And here’s another even smaller joey, cuddling it’s mum. Super cute!

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There is, however, a darker side to koalas. They’re not venomous, like so many other Australian animals, although I reckon they could give you a fair old scratch with those claws if they chose to. Unlike sloths they can move pretty quickly when they want to, and can jump between branches and dash across the ground to the next tree with a fair amount of speed.

No, the thing that will petrify you (particularly if you don’t know otherwise) is the noise they make. We’ve been down in our tent at night in Bimbi Park underneath koalas in the trees, and to hear this insane sound like a cross between a donkey and a chainsaw seemingly centimetres above your head is truly horrific. Sometimes they’re really not very nice to each other at all.

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To further tarnish their cute ‘n’ cuddly reputation, a large proportion have chlamydia, although it doesn’t seem clear yet whether this is a symbiotic relationship that only goes bad when koalas are stressed. I can’t help wondering whether some of those world leaders and others got scratched during all that diplomacy though…

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But this is how we all like to think of koalas, looking slightly befuddled…

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…a bit confused…dsc_9297

…and very, very cute.

See more Australian wildlife

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