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This Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list has been put together from questions that visitors regularly ask our rangers.

1. Can I hold a koala?

No. In the Australian State of New South Wales, as with most other States, it is illegal for any zoo or sanctuary to allow a visitor to hold a koala. Only trained accredited rangers are allowed to hold a koala. This is a sensible law as it protects koalas from being stressed because a human wants to give it a hug. Koalas are wild animals and have a natural fear of humans, especially humans who they don't know. Our rangers are trained on how to handle a koala safely and how to recognise signs of stress. We do allow visitors to touch the koalas, however please understand that if a koala is showing signs of stress we will not allow visitors to interact with it. Our animals' wellbeing is our number one priority. There are some States (like Queensland) where holding a koala is legal but, even so, responsible keepers looking after those koalas would use discretion and not put their animals into a stressful situation.

2. Are koalas endangered?

Yes. Although they are officially classified as "vulnerable" and on the "threatened species list", koala population numbers are crashing. The impacts of human-related dangers (loss of habitat, loss of food trees, global warming with extreme weather events, cars, dogs, diseases resulting from inbreeding due to loss of wildlife corridors, and hunters) are dire. If we don't do something to save the koala, this iconic Australian animal will go extinct.

3. Where are wild koalas found?

They are found in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

4. How long does a joey (baby) stay with its mother?

The joey will stay in the mother's pouch for around 6 months. During this time it will grow from around 5g to around 500g and develop from a pinkie (undeveloped foetus) to a fully formed fully furred viable animal. From around 6 months the joey will ride on the mother’s back or cling to her belly, putting its head into the pouch to suckle. The joey is dependent on its mother's milk until it is around 12 months old. From 1 year on, the joey is independent and can survive without the mother, although most joeys stay with the mother until they are around 18 months old when they will move away and live completely independently.

5. At what age do koalas start to breed?

The female can breed from the age of 2 and the male from the age of 3. However, both are only fully physically mature at 4 years old.

6. How long do koalas live for?

Wild male koalas are known to live for up to 15 years, and females for up to 18 years. However, it is estimated that the average life expectancy for a wild koala is only around 10 because there are so many factors introduced by humans that impact on their health and survival. The World Record for the oldest koala is "Birthday Girl" who was rescued and lived at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie in NSW - she died in 2011 when she was 25 years old.

7. How can you tell a koala's age?

As with many animals, age can be estimated from tooth wear. This is surprisingly accurate in koalas as they all share a similar diet - mainly eucalyptus leaf - and eating patterns, so the amount of wear on the molar and pre-molar teeth will be similar between one koala and another. Up until the age of 4 when the koala is physically mature, skull size and body length, and the ratio of size to weight, are also useful measurements. After the age of 4, size and weight don't change much so tooth wear is the only useful measure in an adult koala.

8. How much leaf does a koalas eat?

Koalas wake up for short intervals to eat throughout the day and night. In 24 hours a koala will eat approximately 500g of leaf. However, because a koala mostly eats 'tip' (the soft young leaves at the top of the branch), the animal will only eat a small proportion of the leaf that it can reach from its perch so it does need to move around in the tree, or between trees, to find enough food. The reason koalas eat mostly tip is these soft new leaves are both higher in energy content themselves, and easier to digest so the koala uses less energy to break them down.

9. Do koalas eat all kinds of eucalyptus leaves?

There are more than 900 species of eucalyptus tree in Australia. Around 50 eucalyptus species are eaten by koalas. However, each animal will have preferred foods and most will eat around 10 species of locally available eucalyptus. They will also eat other types of tree such as paperbark and corymbia. They mostly eat leaves but will also eat lesser amounts of flowers, buds and bark from time to time.

10. Do koalas eat anything other than eucalyptus?

The koala's main diet is eucalyptus (gum) leaves as well as smaller amounts of eucalyptus flowers, buds, stems and bark. Koalas are also occasionally seen eating foods that are from other types of tree and plant such as casuarina, melaleuca and tea tree. All koalas also eat dirt which is thought to contain essential dietary trace elements to keep them healthy, as well as good bacteria for their gut health.

11. Do eucalyptus leaves contain drugs that make the koala sleepy?

No. However, eucalyptus leaves have very little energy so the koala conserves the little energy it does get from the leaf by sleeping for up to 20 hours per day. Koalas need to save their energy for moving between feed trees, digesting the food they eat, looking for mates in the breeding season, and escaping from predators. They are surprisingly fast and agile when they choose to be.

12. Are koalas very slow and clumsy on the ground?

No. Not only are koalas expert fast tree climbers, but they are also very quick when on the ground. They do need to conserve energy so won't run unless they have to, but when they do they can reach speeds of more than 20mph or 30km/hour over short distances.

13. Are koalas nocturnal?

This is not a straightforward question. Koalas sleep for 18 to 20 hours per day to conserve energy because eucalyptus leaves, their main food, contains so little energy. Koalas wake to eat at various intervals through the day and night. Being well adapted to hot Australian conditions, koalas sleep through most of the heat of the day and are more active, e.g. moving between food trees or looking for mates, during the cooler nights. It is probably most accurate to class them as 'crepuscular' (active at dawn and dusk).

14. Do koalas have a mating call?

Yes. The male makes a loud rumbling grating and booming bellow that can be heard across very large distances. This is both a warning to other males to stay out of his territory, and a call to females. The females also bellow, usually in response to a male calling.

15. What predators eat koalas?

Dogs and dingoes will eat joey and adult koalas. Eagles will take joeys. When they are in the trees under leafy cover, they are largely safe from predators. However, they have to come down to the ground to move between food trees and look for mates. It is on the ground that they are most vulnerable. Dingoes, although a natural predator for koalas, have little impact on the species (as they do on all species) because they do not have a preferred food and, with their very varied diet, they are unlikely to regularly eat one species (koala or any other animals). Domestic dogs allowed to roam through the bush, or gone feral and living wild, are the biggest danger for koalas. Domestic dogs do have individual food preferences and, if even one dog has a taste for koalas, it is likely to hunt koalas relentlessly and can decimate a wild koala population over a very short time period.


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