Koala

Koala

Mammalia

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

COMMON NAME: Koala
KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Diprotodonta
FAMILY: Phascolarctidae
GENUS SPECIES: Phascolarctos (leather-pouched bear) cinereus (ash-colored)

FAST FACTS

DESCRIPTION: Mid-sized marsupial with thick, dense fur ranging in color from slate-gray to reddish-brown. They have an opposable modified index finger that acts as a second thumb.
SIZE:  
MALE 75-82 cm (29.5-32.3 in)
FEMALE 68-73 cm (26.8-28.7 in)
WEIGHT:
MALE 9.5-12.5 kg (20.9-29.8 lb)
FEMALE 7-9.8 kg (15.4-21.6 lb)
DIET: Consists almost exclusively of eucalyptus leaves
GESTATION: 35 days
SEXUAL MATURITY:
MALE 3-4 years
FEMALE 2 years
LIFE SPAN: 12-14 years in wild
RANGE: Eastern Australia
HABITAT: Eucalyptus woodlands
POPULATION: GLOBAL Unknown
STATUS: IUCN Not listed
CITES Not listed
USFWS Not listed but protected by the Australian government

FUN FACTS

1. Although koalas may look like bears, they are actually marsupials, animals with a pouch that protects developing young.
2. Koalas almost never need to drink; they get most of their water from the succulent eucalyptus leaves they eat. The word "koala" is an aboriginal word meaning "no drink animal."
3. Koalas eat so much eucalyptus, some say they smell like a giant eucalyptus cough drop!
4. A koala spends over 14 hours a day sleeping.
5. Koalas are perfectly designed for their tree-dwelling life. Their hands have a large gap between the first and second fingers and their big toe is set at a wide angle to the foot. This gives the koala a vicelike grip on branches. They comfortably sit in a tree all day because of their thickly-padded tails.

ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION

Before European colonization in Australia, koalas were an important food source for Aboriginal people and dingo (wild dogs). By the 1920's their populations were nearly destroyed from uncontrolled hunting for their fur. Presently, koalas suffer from habitat depletion that is the result of human development. As their habitats shrink, problems with inbreeding and an increased spread of disease occurs.

Conservationists often teach people about the value of all creatures by using koalas as impressive examples of what we can do to bring animals back from the brink. They are now symbols for international conservation and a reminder that we must continually work to preserve unique environments.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dayton, Leigh. "Can Koalas Bear the 20th Century?" Wildlife Conservation, July - August 1991, pp. 28-37.

Evans, Howard Ensign, and Mary Alice Evans. Australia, A Natural History. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983.

Irvine, Georgeanne. "Deforested Koalas." ZooNooz, August 1991, pp. 58-67.

Litchfield, Linda. "Gray Balls of Fire." ZooLife, Summer 1990, pp. 58-67.

Morris, Desmond. Animalwatching. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1990.

Strahan, Ronald (ed.). The Complete Book of Australian Mammals. London: Angus and Robertson Pub., 1983.