Animal Diaries Archive
Nice to meet you!
13 June 2008
Hello there, it’s me Bert the Southern Koala and my handler Ilana; we've been working together for short time now but I think I will keep her.
Being one of the ambassadors for my species here at the Zoo I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about who I am and what makes me so special in the animal world.
Well, I can tell you this for a start, I always look this good! Even really early in the morning! And I’m always looking forward to meeting new people.
Now that we have that out of the way let’s get down to business, here are some interesting facts about Koalas, which you may not know.
Koalas have five digits on each front paw, two of which are opposed to the others, much like human thumbs, which are able to be moved differently from the fingers. This helps me to hold firmly onto the branches and to grip my food. The second and third digits on my hind paws are fused together to from a grooming claw, this just helps me maintain my good looks.
Koalas are mostly nocturnal. Nocturnal animals are awake during the night and sleep during the day. Koalas, however, sleep for part of the night and also sometimes move about in the daytime. They often sleep for up to 18-20 hours each day, what can I say, I don't like to miss anything and the girls here just can't get enough of me, so I get a nap in where I can.
There is a myth that I want to stop right here because well, it’s giving my species a really bad rap out there in the animal kingdom. It’s the one to do with us being "drunk" on gum leaves, fortunately this is not correct! Most of our time is spent sleeping because it requires a lot of energy to digest the toxic, fibrous, low-nutrition diet and sleeping is the best way to conserve energy. I know the other animals would love to use this excuse to sleep in.
Koalas in the southern parts of Australia are considerably larger and have thicker fur than those in the north. This is thought to be an adaptation to keep warm in the colder southern winters. Ok so I admit it, my size and looks do come down to good genes.
A mature male like me has no need for deodorant or cologne as we have a sent gland in the centre of our white chest which exudes a dark, sticky substance. We boys rub this scent on the trees we climb to let other koalas know that this is our territory.
Koalas also communicate with each other by making a range of noises. The most startling and unexpected of these in such a seemingly gentle animal is a sound like a loud snore and then a belch, known as a 'bellow', now I just want to say that we don't have phones or a mailing system so this works for us really well.
Younger Breeding females usually give birth to one joey each year, though not all females in the wild will breed every year. Some, especially older females, will produce offspring only every two or three years. Well I can't say I blame them, who wants to spend most of your time looking after kids, I would take more time off between kids ladies.
The Joey stays in its mothers pouch for about six or seven months, drinking only milk. Before it can tolerate gum leaves, which are toxic for most mammals, the joey must feed on a substance called 'pap', which is a specialized form of the mother's droppings that is soft and runny. This allows the mother to pass on to the joey special micro-organisms from her intestine which are necessary for it to be able to digest the gum leaves. The joey feeds on this for a period of up to a few weeks just prior to coming out of the pouch. Ok so that was little gross, but koalas got to do what koalas got to do.
After venturing out of the pouch, the joey rides on mums abdomen or back, although it continues to return to the pouch for milk until it is to big to fit inside. The joey leaves its mother's home range between one and three years old, depending on when the mother has her next joey.
We koalas don't live in rainforests or dessert areas. We live in the tall eucalypt forests and low eucalypt woodlands of mainland Australia and on some islands off the southern and eastern coasts. Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Southern Australia are the only states where we koalas are found naturally in the wild.
There are well over 600 varieties of eucalyptus, but we only eat some of these. What can I say, we are some very fussy eaters and we have strong preferences for different types of gum leaves. So we will generally eat from no more that two or three species of eucalypt and browse some of the other species occasionally.
While we are on the subject of my food I want to take the chance to bring up a very important fact about my future and those of my species. Habitat loss is the greatest problem facing koalas. The main reason for this is land clearing, bushfires and diseases of the eucalypt, like 'dieback', which cause the trees to die.
The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that as a result of the loss of our habitat, around 4,000 koalas are killed each year by dogs and cars alone. This is some thing you help to change by keeping your pets indoors of a night time, and when you see us crossing a road please take the time to slow down. We don't have great eyesight and well most of the time we are preoccupied with finding a new tree or a mate.
Australia has one of the highest land clearing rates in the world. 80 per cent of koala habitat has already disappeared. This is were your help comes in, by planting koala trees like Spotted gum, Blue gum, Red stringy bark, Tallow wood, grey gum and if your not sure or looking for more then all you need do is contact the zoo crew and they will help you out.
Well it’s getting around to nap time for me now but I want to thank you for stopping by and I hope to see you at the zoo sometime in the future and you can talk to my keepers, that’s ok by me. But just keep in mind a very true saying we at the Zoo have going, NO TREE NO ME. See you around.