In February, we visited the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie (pronounced Ma-Quarry). There is a free guided tour every day at 3pm. As it was so informative, I felt that it deserved it’s own blog post.
In the hospital, you are only allowed to see the permanent residents as the ones who are being rehabilitated into the wild need as little human contact as possible.
The first koala we met was called Breeza Grant. He survived being hit by a freight train! He suffered a fractured skull, lost part of his ear & had a brain injury. He has recovered well but requires permanent care.
The second koala we met was called Ocean Summer and she was hit by a car when she was a joey (this is what baby koalas are called) and now she is blind because of her injuries.Other koalas had varying conditions including a few with chlamydia which has caused blindness or partial sight.
Threats to Koalas
- Dog Attacks
- Hit by a car
- Sick with disease
- Orphaned or abandoned by their family
- Burns from a bushfire
- Unable to find unoccupied home range (koalas are very territorial so if outsiders invade their home space, they can become violent)
- Habitat removed (e.g. trees chopped down to make room for more houses).
Koalas are only native to Australia and mainly live across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria & South Australia.
Fossils of koala-like ancestors date back to 15 million years ago. It’s closest living relative is the wombat. 2 million years ago, the climate changed and became dryer. The eucalyptus plant evolved to cope with lower rainfall & in turn, koalas adapted to survive in the forests. Fossil records show that koalas have looked the same for the last 2 million years.
European settlers removed forests to make way for farms which started the decline in koala habitats and by 1924, Koalas were extinct in South Australia. The public were outraged and that encouraged the government to declare koalas a protected species in the mid 1930s.
Koalas have a low nutrient diet which means they don’t have much energy. They sleep between 18 to 20 hours every day! They do not fight very often because they conserve their energy but when they do fight, they bite and use their claws.
Koalas carry their babies in a pouch because they are a marsupial. A baby koala is called a joey and they are really small when they are born. They often live in their mother’s pouch until they are 6 months old.
The gestation period is 35 days and when it is born, it weighs less than 1g and is the size of a jelly bean. They are also hairless and blind.
By 4 months old, they are fully furred and can eat eucalyptus leaves if the mother has eaten it first. It eats the faeces as it becomes ‘pap’ in a similar way to baby birds eating regurgitated food that their parents have eaten.
By 1 year old, they are completely weaned and independent. Koalas need to find their own home range and young males have a harder time than females as the alpha males in existing home ranges can be aggressive.
Joeys who are abandoned or orphaned still need to be taken care of so the Port Macquarie Hospital have trained volunteers who take care of these joeys by fostering them and hand feeding them until they are ready to make their own way in the world.
Joeys need to be fed every 2-4 hours, even at night. They are lactose intolerant so need special milk and they are kept in pouches to mimic their mother to keep them warm and safe.
The joey will form a bond with the foster parent and feels safe with their human parent and will treat them like a koala, crying out for attention and climbing on them!
By the time a joey is 2.5kg, they are weaned and moved to the koala hospital so they can learn how to be a koala in the wild. They are buddied with other joeys to form their own social hierarchy and are then released into the wild.
How to keep Koalas around
Koalas who live in undisturbed (by humans) forests have a lower rate of disease. Diseases are expressed more commonly in disturbed habitats due to over-crowding and poor nutrition. Koalas in disturbed habitats also have to deal with obstacles such as high fences, busy roads, dogs & large open spaces.
Have you ever seen a koala?