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Koala

Phascolarctos cinereus

Koala•
Description
  > Habitat and Feeding
  > Breeding
  > Noises
  > Predators
  > Conservation
  > Did You Know?

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Koala • Phascolarctos cinereus
One of Australia’s well known animals is the koala. Karbor, Koolah, Kur-bo-roo are some the many names given to the koala by Aborigines. Early European settlers adopted the ‘koala’  from the word used by the Aboriginal tribe living near Sydney. It is believed that the word meant ‘no drink’ as they had never seen koalas drinking water.

In south-eastern Australia, the Koori (local Aboriginal people) hunted and ate koalas, but never skinned them or used their fur in any way. Koories believed that koalas could control the water supply and that to skin a koala would make all the rivers and creeks dry up.

Although they are often referred to as ‘koala bears’, they are actually marsupials. The koala’s closest relative is the wombat, as they both have pouches which open towards the rear. This method of carrying the young is fine for the wombat, but koalas need strong muscles ringing the pouch to prevent their young from falling out.

DESCRIPTION
Koalas are nomadic arboreal, spending most of their time in trees. They have large claws and strong muscles, with two thumbs and three fingers on each front paw, enabling them to maintain their grip in the branches of trees. In addition they have a clawless big toe on their hind legs, that allows them to grip with their hind feet. Two of their hind toes are joined together forming a two-toothed comb, that is used for grooming fur and removing ticks.

The fur of the koala differs depending what parts of Australia they come from. In the southern parts of Australia it is longer and shaggier than those in the north, obviously due to the colder climate in the south.
 

Koala, Phillip Island

HABITAT AND FEEDING
Koalas vary in size and weight, with those found in Victoria weighing on average up to 10 kg. The smallest koalas are found in North Queensland, weighing only 5.5 kg. With a life span of between 10 and up to 20 years, koalas are found occurring naturally between the south-eastern parts of South Australia, all the way up to North Queensland. However due to the lost of the natural habitats and in particular the type of leaves they eat, they can only be found in areas where there is sufficient food. There is also a thriving colony of koalas found in Gunnedah.

A koala eats about half a kilogram of leaves every day and will only eat from a few varieties of eucalypt.  In Sydney, they eat red gums and mahoganies, whilst in northern areas of the State, they eat tallowwood and forest red gum, and in the south, manna gum. Koalas from the west prefer river red gum and ribbon gum. Koalas use a variety of other trees for shelter during the day and have been seen in trees including paperbark, acacia, she-oak, and brush box. The koalas on Phillip Island eat Manna Gum, Swamp Gum and Blue Gum.

During the night digestion occurs in the koala’s stomach. Acids and enzymes break down the sugars and proteins. Poisons within the leaf are freed and sent to the liver to be detoxified and passed out with bile and urine. The digestion continues on within the small intestines, where the fats and nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. At the end of the small intestine a sieve-like structure allows smaller particles and fluids through to the caecum, a long thin tube, like an appendix, that branches out from the intestines. This tube grows to a length of two metres.

The caecum is where the micro-organisms (bacteria) process the fibrous parts of the leaves. The end product provides the koalas with about 10% of its energy needs. The food may stay in the caecum for 100 hours or more. What remains, with any larger particles, passes directly through to the colon. It is here that all the remaining water is absorbed and the remains passed out in the form of dry, pellet-shaped faeces.

BREEDING
Female koalas can breed from about two years of age. Mating occurs during November to February in the south, September to January further north. Gestation takes about 35 days, with the appearance of a single tiny young, blind and hairless. The newborn crawls from the cloaca to the pouch and attaches itself to one of two nipples to complete its development. At one month it is about one centimetre long.

The cub temporarily leaves the pouch at about five and a half months, and then permanently at about eight months. It clings to its mother’s back or stomach, sticking it’s head into the pouch to feed. During weaning period the cub eats partially-digested eucalyptus that merges from the mother’s cloaca, receiving the bacteria that is needed for digestion as well as food.

When the young koala is about one years old, the mother is able to mate again.

NOISES
Koalas communicate with each other by making a noise like a snore and then a belch, known as a ‘bellow’. The koala mating sounds range from the pig-like grunts and growls of the males, to the high pitched trembling sounds of the females.

PREDATORS
Young koalas are hunted by large birds of prey. They are occasionally taken by eagles, goannas and owls. Dingoes will also kill koalas, however, humans are their worst enemies, with many killed on the road.

CONSERVATION
In many areas the koala is threatened with the loss of its habitat, that provide shelter, protection and food. Declared a vulnerable species under the Threatened Species Conservation Act, many voluntary conservation organisations, along with the local Parks and Wildlife services have strategies in place to reverse the situation, such as planting of food trees such as those in Port Macquarie and Lismore.

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Did you know?

1. Koala from Phillip Island.
Koala from Phillip Island.

2. Koala with young from Tasmania.
Koala with young from Tasmania.

3. Koala with young from Tasmania.
Click me for a full size image.
 

  • A koala needs to chew its food well in order to gain energy from the leaves. This chewing, however, gradually wears the teeth down. As a consequence an old koala with worn teeth cannot chew a leaf into small enough pieces to be effectively digested. This can lead to disease and eventual death.

 

  • What’s in a Eucalypt leaf?
    • Fat 8%
    • Starches and sugars 5%
    • Minerals 2%
    • Fibre 18%
    • Protein 4%
    • Water 50%
    • Tannins 13%

 

  • Koala baby facts
    • The koala’s young is called a cub.
    • The koala’s young are born alive.
    • Koalas drink milk from the mother.

 

  • A Days Work
    • 1 to 3 hours are spent grooming, moving from tree to tree and during the breeding season searching for a mate.
    • 1-3 hours a day are spent feeding. This occurs in numerous bouts that are spread across a 24 hour period, especially around sunset. Feeding can last from 5 minutes to 2 hours.
    • 20 hours of the koala’s day (approximately), is spent asleep and resting.
  • Are all koalas the same size?
    The Southern Koala found throughout Victoria, southern New South Wales and South Australia are significantly larger than the Northern Koala found in Queensland, with the koalas on Kangaroo Island being larger than the mainland koalas.

    Eighteen koalas from Victoria were introduced to Kangaroo Island in the 1920s, being released into Flinders Chase National Park at the western part of the island. The release was to safeguard the species from extinction on the mainland where disease, fire, hunting and habitat clearing threatened their survival.

    Now well established in several areas on the island, and an important tourist attraction,

 

  • Over 2 million koalas were killed between 1908 and 1927.
If there are any factual errors, please email us.

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Language Common name  
Aboriginal Name Karbor, Koolah, Kur-bo-roo  
English Koala, Koala Bear  
Scientific Classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Subclass: Marsupialia
Order: Diprotodontia
Suborder: Vombatiformes
Family: Phascolarctidae
Genus: Phascolarctos
Species: P. cinereus

Koala - Where can I see them

There are a number of national parks and forest zones on the eastern side of Australia, from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania where you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the koalas in their natural habitat. Places like Phillip Island and Kangaroo Island, may provide a better chance of seeing koalas. Other places to get a close encounter include many of the zoos, wildlife parks and sanctuaries, and places that mainly deal with koalas. Following are some of those zoos and wildlife parks where you can see koalas:
 
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
• Jesmond Rd, FIG TREE POCKET QLD 4069 • Ph: +61 7 3378 1366 • Fax: +61 7 3878 1770 • Email
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia, is the world's first and largest koala sanctuary, with over 130 koalas. Cuddle a koala anytime, handfeed kangaroos and encounter a large variety of Aussie wildlife, all in beautiful, natural settings.
Koala Park Sanctuary
• 84 Castle Hill Road, WEST PENNANT HILLS NSW 2125
• Ph: 02 9484 3141 • Fax: 02 9484 8009 • Email
Details: The Sanctuary is nestled within the lush tall timbers of the affluent residential Hills district of Northern Sydney, set amongst 10 acres of natural eucalyptus trees favoured by the koala. Absorb the Australian bush sounds and aromas inside the forest canopy and open-range wildlife zones to explore, interact and discover your own wildlife encounter in a sustainable habitat for Australian wildlife and culture. The Sanctuary supports a large number of koala families and a number of other Australian wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, dingoes, possums, penguins, flying foxes, emus, echidnas, cassowaries, wedge tail eagles, cockatoos etc.
Featherdale Wildlife Park
• 217-229 Kildare Rd, DOONSIDE NSW 2767 • Ph: 02 9622 1644 Fax: 02 9671 4140
Details: A natural bushland park, home to one of Australia’s largest collection of native animals, including 30 endangered species. There are face-to-face encounters with kangaroos, wallabies, and emus. Facilities include cafe, souvenir shop, shady picnic areas with BBQs.
‘Feed, Walk and Talk’ TourKoala Hospital & Study Center ‘Roto House’
• Koala Preservation Society of NSW Inc
• Macquarie Nature Reserve, Lord St, PORT MACQUARIE NSW 2444
• Ph: 02 6584 1522 • Email (online form)
Details: Tours are conducted every afternoon at 3 pm with a volunteer conducting the walk around the outside yards informing visitors of the history, the individual koalas, why they are there and what is being done for them.

With between 200 and 250 koalas are admitted through the hospital annually, relying on volunteers and monies raised to keep the hospital open. Your donation with the ‘Adopt a Koala’ will help support the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie.
Koala Conservation CentrePhillip Island Nature Parks
• Harbison Rd, PHILLIP ISLAND VIC 3922 • Ph: +61 3 5951 2800 • Fax: +61 3 5956 8394 • Email
Details: Stroll through this eucalypt woodland and come ‘face-to-face’ with koalas in their natural habitat. The Koala Conservation Centre’s unique tree top boardwalks and close viewing areas allow visitors to see how truly amazing koalas are. The new koala boardwalk provides exceptional koala viewing and features amazing views of a beautiful natural wetland area.

Promoting koala conservation, this ecotourism attraction has been essential for saving Phillip Island’s koala population and natural bush environment. The new close viewing area plays host to a special koala breeding program over the next year, ensuring it remains a key player in the conservation of these important animals. Visitors have the opportunity to experience a ranger-led ‘Koala Eco-Explorer Tour’ which provides them with the chance to discover behind the scenes information about one of Australia’s favourite icons.

Another spectacular area is the woodland walk. Wandering through natural bush, amongst hundreds of different species of Australian wildlife, (including wallabies, possums, echidnas and snakes) visitors can try to spot the koalas themselves.

The Koala Conservation Centre also features a visitor interpretation centre with gift shop and educational displays, which visitors will find extremely fascinating and informative. The Koala Conservation Centre is part of the Phillip Island Nature Parks and is a great addition to any trip to Phillip Island and the Penguin Parade.
Kyabram Fauna Park
• Lake Rd, KYABRAM VIC • Ph: 03 5852 2883 • Fax: 03 5853 2336
• Open 7 days — 9:30 am - 5:30 pm
Details: This award winning attraction allows visitors to share the relaxed natural surroundings with more than 100 species of Australia's unique wildlife that include koalas, parrots, Tasmanian Devils, owls, water birds, reptiles, dingoes, kangaroos and much, much more.

Located on 55 ha of open parkland and lakes, this fauna park is run by the Community of Kyabram as a non-profit project. All monies received are used for the development and maintenance of exhibits, grounds and conservation projects, for which the Park is renowned.

Displaying Australian Native Wildlife, the park aims to provide the fauna with a natural environment, which allows the visitors to experience the true beauty and gentleness of our wildlife heritage. The park is home to some 500 Australian native animals, birds and reptiles.

To check out some of our images, click here...
Nowra Wildlife Park
• Rockhill Rd, NORTH NOWRA NSW 2541 • Ph: 02 4421 3949
Details: The largest native animal park on the NSW South Coast. Set on 16 acres of native bushland on the banks of the Shoalhaven River, there are over 100 species of animals birds and reptiles.
Symbio Wildlife Gardens
• 7-11 Lawrence Hargrave Drv, STANWELL TOPS NSW 2058
• Ph: +61 2 4294 1244 • Fax: +61 2 4294 1734 • Email (online form)
Details: Only 45 minutes south of Sydney, this wildlife zoo is designed to give “hands-on experience”. Set in 16 acres of natural bushland, there are a huge variety of animals from native, farmyard and exotics that the visitor can experience that include koalas, wallaroos, red kangaroos, swamp wallabies, emus, echidnas, wombats and dingos.

For those into reptiles, there are non-venomous snakes, as well as a variety of lizards, turtles, and the awesome lace Monitors. There are daily demonstrations, talks, coffee shop, kiosk, picnic areas, BBQ, and swimming pools.
Taronga Park Zoo
• PO Box 20, Bradleys Head Rd, MOSMAN NSW 2088 • Ph: +61 2 9969 2777 (General Enquiries) • Email • Ph: +61 2 9978 4782 (Tourism) • Fax: +61 2 9969 7515 • Email (tourism)
Details: Located on the shores of Sydney Harbour and only 12 minutes by ferry from Circular Quay.

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Koala - Other links

NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service
 Check out their fact sheets, includes the koala.
Australian Koala Foundation
• Level 1, 40 Charlotte St, BRISBANE QLD 4000
• Ph: +61 7 3229 7233 • Fax: +61 7 3221 0337 • Email
The principal non-governmental organisation dedicated to saving the koala and its habitat. Includes facts and latest news about koalas.
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