Among the many different marsupials in the world, there is one that stands out and is recognized, not only for its looks, but also for the hardships that it deals with in being a koala. The koala originated in Australia, and was discovered by trappers around the time of 1798. Many rare and exotic animals have been found in Australia, because of its remoteness and isolation from most of the civilized world. Australia has been described as a huge ark, a giant lifeboat, cut off from contact with the rest of the world and carrying with it a group of unique creatures (Serventy 1975). The creatures that inhabit Australia are made up of many different classifications of animal groups that have found themselves all living together on one continent.
The koala is a very unique looking animal, which has a very interesting face and color structure. It has a very large nose, with small eyes, and very ears. The fur of the koala is dense and wooly; it has gray on the upper part and lighter colored below it. The koalas living in the southern regions of Australia, which tend to be colder, are larger and have a shaggier coat then those in the north. The arms of the koala have three fingers on each hand that are separated from the other two, which make it easy for the koala to grasp on to branches. On the koala?s feet there are only two out of the five toes on each foot that are made for climbing. The other toes are used for grasping and combing the hair of the animal. Both the arms and legs of the koala are very powerful.
The koala is a nocturnal animal, which begins its feeding process in the late afternoon, when it awakes from its daily sleep. It ventures high up in the treetops to begin feeding on the leaves of gum trees located in the jungles of Australia. It uses its strong feet for climbing up the steep gum trees, and its heavy body, weighing more than thirty pounds, to support it in the tree branches while eating. When eating up in the trees the koala uses its powerful jaw and razor sharp teeth to tear apart the gum leaves. All movements made by the koala are slow and careful, when a fall from the tree would mean sudden death for the creature. It spends mainly all of its life up in the trees. The koala sleeps, eats, and takes care of its young all up in the high gum trees in Australia. The koala can run on land, but in the event of an attack the nearest tree to the koala is where it is headed. It runs to the tree and takes a three-foot leap onto it. Once on the tree it can either jump foot by foot up until they reach safety, or slowly climb to any given point in the forest by climbing from tree to tree.
The koala is also a fantastic swimmer. Although they are very strong swimmers they seem to be somewhat clumsy moving along with almost all of its body submerged. There are several sightings of the koala swimming in bays and along reefs in order to avoid walking on land and take the risk of running into predators.
Mating season in the jungles of Australia is extremely noticeable, due to the call of the koala during this time. The koala?s call is described as a harsh, grating sound, like a handsaw going through a thin board (Phillips 1990). There is one story in which a man was working with a chain saw when he looked up and saw a large koala coming toward him. The animal grabbed him by the pants and bit his leg and wrist, when it was captured and placed in a box the animal made a very loud, growling cry (Serventy 1975). It is believed that when the koala heard the noise of the chain saw it felt it had to defend its territory with any means necessary. When the baby koala is born it is just a little bit bigger than a human fingernail. During its youth it spends its time in its mothers pouch, just like the ever-famous Australian animal the kangaroo. While in the pouch there are the teats of the mother for the baby to feed on. The mother koala can continue all of her daily routine with the baby in the pouch. When the baby koala is large enough it leaves the pouch and travels on its mother?s back. In this position it is less likely to be bumped against tree branches while the mother is climbing.
With all of the strong characteristics of the koala it is very strange that the koala actually has a very fragile body. Zookeepers who handle koalas have stated that despite their toughness, their bodies are more delicate than is usually imagined. The animals can only be lifted by gripping it around the waist or lifting it directly by means of the arms. The sides of the koala and the head are very dangerous spots to grab when handling a koala. Just grabbing the feet or hands of the koala is also a very vulnerable place to the animals.
The diet of the koala bears is very particular. Most koalas do enjoy feasting on the high leaves of the gum tree; however, eucalyptus leaves also appeal to the koala. There are many different types of gum trees for the koalas to feast on as well. In New South Wales there are more than twenty species of gum trees that were found to be used as food for the koalas. One koala was even seen eating the leaves of the introduced weeping willow. There is a huge variety of plant life that the koala will feed on, but it all depends on the location in which the koala lives. There are vary dangerous plant life for the koalas, some leaves in the area have special enzymes which control koala feeding habits (Sarre 1999). These leaves are part of the dangers that koalas face in the wild.
Koalas are a threatened species, even though they are so isolated in the Australian jungles. Wildlife surveys show that human interruption has caused a severe decline in koala population. Among the factors that caused this decline are the building of highways and pollutants. As sad as it is poaching of koalas is also a huge problem in Australia. Even though koala population is at an up rise, the ideas of hunting koalas still disturb many people. There are many conservation groups across the country who are starting programs and save the koalas from death (Payne 1995). Hopefully with everyone?s help the koalas will be around for many generations to enjoy.