May 3rd is Wild Koala Day! This day was created by a group of koala focused charities to raise awareness of the struggles faced by these vulnerable marsupials. Safari Ltd is doing its part to spread the word, so read on to learn more about why koalas need protection and what’s being done to help them.

As we’ve mentioned in previous blogs, koalas are not bears, but rather marsupials which give birth to their young before they’re fully developed and care for them in a pouch near the stomach. Koalas are only native to eastern Australia, and they have many features that make them unique among animals. Losing such an extraordinary creature would be devastating to those who believe in protecting the natural world.

 

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The Land Down Under TOOB with Koala and Baby

 

Koalas are sometimes called “living fossils” because they have no close living relatives. Though they are distantly related to other marsupials like wombats and kangaroos, there is nothing else living today quite like the koala. One of the most distinctive features of the koala is its hands. If you look at the hands of a koala (and ignore its very large claws), you’ll find that they actually resemble the hands of a human, right down to its fingerprints! Koalas also have opposable thumbs, like humans, which means the thumb digit is separated and “opposed to” the other fingers. However, unlike humans, koalas have TWO thumbs on each hand. This helps them grasp onto the trees where they spend most of their days.

Now that we know a bit about what makes koalas unique, let’s take a look at what type of threats they’re facing. Traditionally, koalas were hunted for food by the Aboriginal people of Australia, and European settlers hunted the animal extensively for its soft fur. This led to a sharp decline in population in the early 1900s, but efforts to conserve the species helped its numbers rebound. However, in 2016 the koala was categorized as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and in certain areas of Australia specific populations of koalas are in danger of becoming extinct.

 

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Wild Safari Wildlife Koala Figure Koala with Babies Good Luck Minis

 

The main problem facing koalas today is habitat destruction. Forests are being cleared to develop cities and create farmland, and koalas depend on these forests, as they spend up to 80% of their time in trees and their diet consists almost entirely of leaves from the eucalyptus tree. Habitat destruction not only takes away the koalas’ living space and food source, but can also split populations apart, leading to smaller and smaller groups of koalas that cannot interact with one another, which lowers the animal’s genetic diversity. This leads to health problems and eventually can cause these small populations to die out.

In heavily populated urban areas, koalas face even more threats from human encroachment, as they can be struck by vehicles or be harmed by domestic dogs. While total koala numbers are estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000, it’s important that these remarkable creatures be considered before any action is taken which could endanger them and threaten the future survival of the species. To learn more about the groups behind Wild Koala Day, check out their homepage.

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