They’re the adorable, tree-hugging, eucalyptus-eating Australian icon we all know and love, but as the harsh, dry climate continues to take its toll, their natural habitats are facing increasing risk. Dr Valentina Mella leads a project that examines the behaviour and health of koalas in relation to water availability in the environment. In the lead up to Pave the Way, she’s shared her favourite facts about these cuddly creatures and what we can do to help protect them.
V: Eucalyptus leaves are the main source of a koala’s diet, and its digestive system has uniquely adapted to break down the harsh leaves. Koalas are extremely picky with their food, but will occasionally branch out (literally) and eat from other Australian natives. Koalas also rely on the moisture in eucalyptus leaves for most of their hydration needs.
V: Koalas normally consume around 500 to 800g of Eucalyptus leaves in a single day. Impressively, they manage to consume all of this in only 3-4 hours as they sleep 20 hours a day! Koalas are nocturnal animals, so they are only active at night.
V: Koalas, humans and some monkeys (chimps and gorillas) are the only animals that have fingerprints. Koala fingerprints are similar to human fingerprints in their shape, and in their uniqueness, so yes - I suppose they might get confused on a crime scene!
V: Sort of. Koalas have two opposable ‘digits’ on each front paw. These digits help them to climb, hold onto trees, grip food and (importantly) groom. When you spend as much time up in trees as a koala does, you’d want to make sure you’ve got a firm grip.
V: Koalas are arboreal animals, which means that they live in trees and rely on them for food, shelter and their overall survival. Koalas actually spend most of their lives in trees and the only time they’re on the ground is when they’re trying to find another tree with a more generous food supply.
V: Threats to koalas vary from state to state and area to area. In general, the decline of koalas has been attributed mainly to loss and fragmentation of habitat, diseases such as chlamydia and mortality from dog attacks and collisions with vehicles. But we know now that heatwaves and droughts driven by climate change also severely affect them.
V: Yes! Koalas are marsupials and have a gestation of only about 35 days, after which the little jellybean joey climbs up to the mother pouch to complete its development.
V: A koala call (bellowing) can travel up to 800m in still air!
V: There’s plenty that can be done to help koalas. By coming along to Pave the Way on the Tuesday 18 September, you can learn more about koalas, and do your bit to help protect their future.
Pave the Way is the University’s annual giving day. On Tuesday 18 September, students will come together for a 24-hour fundraising challenge to raise funds for the areas in greatest need. This year it’s the koala.
There will be free food, activities and photo opportunities throughout the day on Eastern Ave and Cadigal Green. Check out the Facebook event for more information.