Monday, April 2, 2012
Koalas in the treetops: Phillip Island
Athough koalas are not native to Phillip Island, they've been here since the late 1800s. Their story is, however, marked by misfortune.
Initially they thrived but soon their numbers became too large for the food trees upon which they relied. Then the hunters arrived. Phillip Island's koalas were hunted almost to extinction. When the hunting stopped, the reproductive disease Chlamydia (which causes blindness, infertility and death) reared its ugly head and is still a problem today -- along with dog attacks, accidental deaths on the road, and loss of eucalypt forest habitat.
It's estimated that less than 50 koalas live on Phillip Island today, with most living within the safety of the Koala Conservation Centre.
When born, a koala joey is about the size of a jelly bean and stays in its mother's pouch for about eight months, drinking milk.
In the wild koalas tend to live alone. The old male in a photos moves gently from tree to tree within a fairly small area. He bellows, snores, snarls and screams; sleeps for about 20 hours every day; and spends about four hours eating, moving around and grooming himself.
Relaxation is a koala's greatest skill and pleasure. These marsupials (koalas are not bears) are one of Australia's most famous and much loved animals. They deserve our protection.
A few years ago I wrote a book about koalas for young children. It's illustrated and is still in print today. It's called Koala.