Koala Outpost Summer Exhibit
This summer, we’re hosting two extra-special guests from San Diego Wildlife Alliance: female koalas Kolet and Kumiri! We are delighted to be able to provide care and a temporary residence at the Koala Outpost exhibit for these two tree-dwellers.
Introducing our VIPs!
Diet in the Wild: eucalyptus leaves
Diet at the Zoo: eucalyptus leaves
Range: Forests and savannas of Eastern Australia
Habitat: The branches and leaves of tall eucalyptus forests, coastal woodlands
IUCN Status: Vulnerable
Koalas are some of the most recognizable animals on the planet. Most people know that these big-eared Australian animals are small, gray and fuzzy, have big black noses and beady eyes, and love to spend time in the eucalyptus trees of Eastern Australia. The koalas’ popularity probably stems from the fact that they resemble real-life stuffed animals/ teddy bears. But did you know? As marsupials, koalas are not bears at all (even though they are sometimes referred to as the ‘koala bear’). This is just the first of many misconceptions surrounding koalas.
Did You Know?
- Koalas have a lifespan of around 13-17 years. As solitary, arboreal animals, they spend most of their lives in trees. By living so high above the ground, koalas can avoid predators, and are surrounded by their favorite food: eucalyptus leaves. Koala populations are in sharp decline because of disease, encounters with dogs and vehicles, wildfires, and human destruction of their habitat.
- Koalas like to hang out in trees, sometimes sleeping for up to 19 hours a day. Contrary to popular belief, koalas don’t cling to tree trunks like that because they are the world’s best huggers. It turns out, hugging trees during hot periods can help koalas cool off and regulate their temperatures.
- Koalas bark! They are known to produce a range of unusual calls, sometimes called a bark, snore, bellow, or scream. Koalas are known to produce a range of unusual calls, sometimes called a bark, snore, bellow, or scream. Koalas use these vocalizations to communicate with each other and, when distressed, to try to scare off would-be predators.Male koalas “bellow” at the females during mating season. Female koalas emit more vocalizations when communicating with their young.
- The name Koala comes from an Aboriginal language called Dharug, in which the word “gula” means “no water.” The koala does not drink water, getting all the hydration it needs through eucalyptus leaves and, every now and then, by licking trees after rain.
- For many native communities in Australia, the koala is an important figure in mythology, and some tribes even recognize the koala as a “totem,” or symbol, of the tribe. Totem animals are protected from hunting and other threats. These native groups have worked with the Australian government to help save declining koala populations in the wake of the 2020 wildfires that destroyed much of the koala’s native habitat in Eastern Australia.
- Koalas aren’t just cute; they are culturally important. Humans have been watching, protecting, learning from, and teaching about koalas for thousands of years — by providing care for these two koalas, we are continuing this ancient conservation tradition!
- The koala is the only mammal in the world with a digestive system capable of breaking down the strong poisons in eucalyptus leaves. What’s more, the water in eucalyptus leaves provides sufficient hydration for koalas, so they don’t have to travel to water source to hydrate. With adaptations like these, koalas have evolved to a life of hanging out, and almost never have to leave their trees!
- Koalas are uniquely specialized for the forests and savannas of Eastern Australia. They have two “false thumbs”, (or, digits on their hand that resemble human thumbs), which allow koalas to grip leaves and branches.
The Future of Koalas
In February of 2022, the Australian government determined that the bushfires of 2020 reduced the koala population to below 100,000, so the government declared the koala to be an endangered species. The bushfires affected an estimated 60,000 wild koalas, who lost habitats and food sources, experienced burns, inhaled smoke, and lost offspring. Conservationists are working tirelessly to raise awareness for the koalas — and now you know enough about the koala to get involved, too!
- From 1990-2010, The wild koala population of Australia fell by roughly 28%.
- Between 2010 and 2020, thousands of koalas died or were displaced by the destruction of eucalyptus forests to make way for human development.
- In 2019 and 2020, Australian bushfires reduced the koala population to below 100,000. After conservation groups estimated that the koala could be extinct in less than 30 years, the Australian government in 2020 declared a commitment to doubling the wild koala population in Eastern Australia by 2050.
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