The Koala is a universally recognised icon of Australia. I’m sure most people know that koalas aren’t bears but are in fact marsupials which means they give birth to very undeveloped young who continue their development in the warmth & safety of their mothers pouch.
The 2 cm long “joeys” are blind & bald when first born and crawl through the hair on their mothers belly to the pouch using their senses of smell & touch. They latch onto the nipple inside the pouch which then swells in the mouth to lock the baby in place.
They then spend 6–7 months maturing in the pouch before emerging to continue their “childhood” in a piggyback position on their mother.
Koalas eat only the leaves of certain Eucalyptus trees (gum trees). These leaves are extremely toxic to most animals but Koalas have a highly specialised digestive system including special bacteria which enable them to digest the leaves safely.
The mother must pass these bacteria on to the joey by way of soft droppings which the youngster eats. The bacteria are then able to colonise the gut of the young koala so that they too will be able to eat gum leaves. The digestion process in an adult koala takes a lot of time and energy which is why koalas sleep for around 20 hours each day.
The male koala has a scent gland on his chest which exudes a dark, sticky, smelly substance which he uses to rub on trees to mark his territory.
They will have several “home” trees which other koalas won’t use though there will be other koalas with home trees of their own nearby. Koalas don’t socialise except for breeding purposes but can communicate through an unusual vocalisation which sounds like a loud snore followed by a belch!
The koala’s biggest threat in the wild isn’t a fox or a snake but the destruction of habitat which comes with development by man; as well as bushfires and diseases affecting the eucalypts. Loss of habitat leads to koalas getting stressed where they might succumb to infections which normally wouldn’t make them ill.
It also leads to them being forced onto the ground where they fall prey to dogs or cars. Koalas are a protected species but unfortunately their habitat is not.
We trust that awareness of the situation for koalas will lead to a turnaround in the decline in numbers which has been occurring for many years. Isn’t it strange that an animal which Australians would see as a symbol of their nation can be neglected to such an extent that they may one day become endangered?
Vet Helen Walton-Collett has recently completed an extra qualification in small animal ophthalmology
Concerns have been raised about Alabama rot disease in dogs being picked up in muddy and wooded areas
We have been making a significant effort to ensure your pet’s visit to Bicester Vets is as enjoyable as possible