The koala (or phascolarctos cinereus) is an arboreal marsupial that lives in the eucalypt forests of Eastern Australia. Its body is well adapted to a life of tree climbing. Although their vestigial tail doesn't really serve any real purpose, they have strong limbs to assist with climbing and rough pads on their paws to assist with gripping branches and trunks. In appearance, the animal does resemble a teddy bear, with a large round head, cute round furry ears and a broad flat black nose. Yet unlike teddy bears, koalas have sharp claws and teeth. Koalas were once killed for their soft, thick, ash/grey coloured fur. This fur would later be sold in the USA as 'wombat fur', but in current times there are laws in place to prevent such acts from recurring. Koalas can grow up to 2 1/2 feet in length, 6-13 kilograms in weight and live for up to 20 years. Koalas from the southern area of the Australian mainland tend to be larger than those from the north, due to their extra bodyfat and thicker fur used to deal with the colder climate.

These marsupials will give birth to one baby at a time, which will stay in its mother's pouch for 6 months after they enter the world. After this, the young koala will be carried on its mother's back until it has grown half its full size.

The word koala is meant to translate to 'no drink' in some aboriginal dialects. Funnily enough, koalas do not drink liquids but instead gain all the moisture they require from the eucalypt leaves they feed on.

A diet of almost strictly eucalypt leaves gives koala a high-fibre, low-nutrient diet. These eucalypt leaves are poisonous to most animals, with the exception of the koala, greater glider and ringtail possum. This means that most of the time koalas do not need to compete with other species for their food sources. Koalas are picky and will only eat a certain species of eucalypt depending on the season, their own personal preference and local conditions. All in all there are about 12 species of the plant that koalas are known to feast on.

However, this diet does come with a few disadvantages. Koalas have a slow metabolic rate and therefore store little fat. As a result, the animal needs to conserve as much energy as it can -- which is often done by sleeping 16 hours or more a day. Contrary to what some may believe, the koala's lethargic behaviour is not because they're drugged out on gumleaves!

Unfortunately, the destruction of Australian forests has posed a threat to the koala's future existence. Infact 80% of Australia's eucalypt forests have been wiped out since white people settled in Australia. The koala's fussy eating habits mean that its much harder for them to find leaves it will actually want to eat, and the overcrowding of forests means there is more competition for food.

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How to catch a koala

Occasionally, koalas in the wild have to be captured for various reasons. No, not to eat them or make koala fur slippers. If the animal in question is part of a study, it may have to be weighed and measured, or checked for chlamydia (a common disease among koalas), or a blood sample may be taken to check its metabolic functions.

So what? It's a drowsy, cuddly furball! Wrong. Consider the following obstacles that can turn a koala catch into an adrenalin-pumping nightmare:

  • Rather sharp teeth designed to tear leaves off of gum trees.
  • 2-3 inch long, razor-sharp claws designed to climb said gum trees.
  • Despite their low metabolic rate, koalas can go into short bursts of panic mode and outrun any human, especially in a thick, dense forest.
  • The animal may be 50ft up in the tree where the branches are too weak to support you

What follows is the Australian government-approved method of catching a koala, meaning it will cause the least possible disturbance for the animal. You will need about 3-5 people and the following equipment:

Once you have dragged all this stuff into the bush and located the animal, you're ready to go!
  1. Designate one person to handle the hessian bags. One or two people get a pole with a flag. Arrange the others around the base of the tree, preferably covering potential escape routes (mainly other nearby trees).

  2. If the koala is high up in the tree, one of the pole people climbs it until the animal can be reached. The objective is to wave the flag in the face of the koala. Their instinctive reaction is to back off down the tree. Once it is halfway down the tree, the person on the ground with the other pole takes over.

  3. When the koala is about 5ft above ground level, one of the people around the tree jumps forward and grabs the fur in the back of the neck, much like when handling a cat. The other hand goes to the butt to support the weight. If done properly, the koala will try to bite and slash, but it won't be able to reach the person holding it.
    If you miss the right moment, the animal will be too far down the tree, jump to the ground or straight to a nearby tree and make a run for it. If this happens, give up and try again the next day.

  4. Steer the koala into the hessian bag, held open by another person. It will grab the fabric and you can then somersault it into the bag. Lift the bag and hold it shut. Voilà!

  5. If the koala is on the end of a branch or refuses to go down, things get a little more complicated. Here's were the tarpaulin comes in. The people on the ground hold it stretched out at head level, while the pole handlers simply try to push or shake the koala out of the tree. The tarp holders must make sure to always be directly below the animal and wear helmets with plexiglas visors, because the koala may break off some branches on his way down. Once you catch it, bring the corners of the tarpaulin to the center without letting the koala escape.

You can weigh the koala in the bag/tarp, but for all other procedures (especially blood samples), you will have to anesthetize it with a little nitrous oxide unless you want to get your face slashed.

Now, releasing it again is a whole different story...

Ko*a"la (?), n.

A tailless marsupial (Phascolarctos cinereus), found in Australia. The female carries her young on the back of her neck. Called also Australian bear, native bear, and native sloth.

<-- and koala bear. -->


© Webster 1913.

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