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The Koala, Phascolarctus cinereus, is an unusual Australian Marsupial.  Most of the Marsupials of the world are from Australia.  Apart from the Marsupials native to Australia and nearby places including New Guinea, there are only a few Marsupials in the world.  The most famous one is the Opossum of America.  There are also a few South American Marsupials. 

The word Koala is based on the Australian Aboriginal name which is variously translated as ‘Animal that does not drink’ and ‘No Drink’.  The name refers to the fact that the Koala normally does not drink water; I would expect that sometimes they can get dew off gum leaves in the morning.  In extreme conditions Koalas can drink water.  In the recent heat wave they came down from the trees and appeared desperate for water, even approaching humans.  There was an amazing picture in  the Courier Newspaper of a cyclist sharing his bottle of water with a Koala.

The normal diet of the Koala consists of Gum leaves of certain types.  Their favourite is probably the Manna Gum, Eucalyptus viminalis, although they also like the River Red Gum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis.  With the prolonged drought, the moisture content of these leaves had probably dropped, and the extreme heat was the final straw that forced the Koalas to come down and seek water.

A baby Koala is called a ‘Joey’, like a baby kangaroo.  The Joey lives in its mother’s pouch for about six months and then rides on its mother’s back, becoming independent after about 12 months.  Koalas live to about 12 years old.

The Koala is NOT a Bear, despite a slight similarity in appearance.  Koalas are related to Wombats.  Koalas are mostly solitary.  They sleep about 19 hours a day, usually in the fork of a Gum tree. They are more active in the dark.

While they stay in the trees they are fairly safe from predators. Koalas are vulnerable to some diseases.

They are listed as‘rare’, but this does not give a full idea of what their numbers are like in specific areas.  They are reasonably common in the Adelaide Hills.

Koalas were introduced to Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia.  There are a lot of Manna Gums on Kangaroo Island and the Koalas thrived.  Now they are in Plague Proportion on the Island and are devastating the Manna Gums. 

The South Australian Government is attempting to keep the numbers of Koalas down without killing any.  There are considerable logistic problems with this.
Steve Challis
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Photo by Nick Carson
Young Koala
By Erik Veland (Own work)[This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.], via Wikimedia Commons.