General Non-Fiction posted March 19, 2023

Not to be left out ...

A koala's story

by Wendy G

Good afternoon from Australia!

The writer did not forget about me when she wrote about Australian wildlife – she felt I warranted a special story and asked me to tell you a little. I’m not very sociable, so I’ll just write it and she can share my story.

I am a koala – cute to look at, yes, with my beautiful grey fur coat and cream chest. If you can see me, of course! I spend up to 20 hours a day fast asleep in the canopies of tall eucalyptus trees. I don’t mind skinny branches, and I am quite comfortable in the forks of branches – and no, I do not fall out. You usually can’t see me up there. It’s called “privacy”!

You see, I like the solitary life – I prefer my own company. I don’t have friends except for “breeding purposes” and that’s the only time I tolerate a male. He has a special scent gland on his chest to mark his territory.

He will give a loud belch or bellow to let me know he’s ready. Not very romantic! We both have good hearing, so that’s okay. We “do it”, and then leave each other in peace. The saying is, “We give each other space!” It works for us!

I like to keep to my own territory too. I’ll come down (reluctantly) if I need a new tree – during my life I’ll need about a hundred trees! Or if I need a new habitat. That is a key word for me, and I’ll explain later. It’s not easy to talk about.

If I do descend to the ground, I have to watch out for dingoes, and occasionally dogs and cats. Also cars! I can’t move very fast. Up in the trees there are sometimes owls and wedge-tail eagles to be wary of. Life is not very easy for a koala!

I sleep a lot because I have a slow metabolism and need to conserve my energy for eating. It’s hard work, you know, and I only eat at night. I am therefore called nocturnal.

I’m quite a fussy eater – only the best for me, although you may not agree. Of the more than seven hundred species of eucalypts, I will eat leaves from only about fifty – and I like twelve particular types which form my staple diet.

My sense of smell is excellent – that’s how I choose my leaves. The tips of branches have the juiciest leaves, and that’s why I venture out on even quite thin branches, to reach the tips. You’ll be surprised to know that I eat up to about a kilogram of leaves a day (around 2.2 pounds) and that is ALL I eat – and I don’t drink water either. I get my moisture from the leaves, except in times of drought when the leaves dry out.

There is a small issue about my eating patterns. The leaves I choose to eat are poisonous and hard to digest, so I have a long digestive organ called a caecum, to break down the toxins. I believe this makes me unique. I have a special one-off design. Very clever!

But, of course, my babes can’t manage the toxins – so they are on a different eating plan. But first let me tell you more about them! They’re quite amazing – only about the size of a kidney bean when they are born, about thirty-five days after the mating.

Firstly – you do know I am a mammal, don’t you? And in the group called marsupials because I have a pouch? Good – so please don’t call me a bear. I’m not a bear at all!

So, let me continue …. My babes, called joeys, are born blind and without ears, but they have a strong sense of smell and touch, and they latch onto the nipples within my pouch – and stay attached for about thirteen weeks. Their eyes open at around twenty-two weeks.

But, of course, they can’t manage the toxins in the eucalyptus leaves – so they feed on my droppings which contain micro-organisms to break down the toxins. Disgustingly clever! That’s why I need a whole article to explain all my smart features.

When they are around six or seven months old, my joey leaves the pouch and climbs onto my back, just returning for feeding. They grow up fast, these little ones.

Fully grown they will be about sixty to eighty-five centimetres (twenty-four to forty inches) and weigh up to around fourteen kilograms (about thirty pounds). I can’t keep carrying that weight around!

By their first birthday they are independent and ready to mate. Young koalas have joeys every year, but we older ones just every second or third year. Too much otherwise, as we get older.

Now, humans are a little better these days, but when Europeans first came to Australia, they slaughtered us for our skins, and sent them to England to make expensive coats. How barbaric! Our numbers of course declined rapidly. It was better in the olden days before white settlement. I can’t speak more about it – too distressing.

These days we are protected – but our trees are usually on private property so it’s hard to supervise. And our habitat is rapidly decreasing – humans are demanding more and more land for their farms, and also for their own houses. So they chop down our trees – our homes – to make way for theirs.

We have other problems too. Climate change (again, humans are largely responsible) produces more extreme heat, droughts that last longer and longer, and worst of all, bushfires. We can’t move fast enough to get out of the way, and it’s a terrible and terrifying death.

In the last major fires in 2019 -2020, most of rural Eastern Australia was ablaze – and that’s exactly where we live. We lost 80% of our habitat. (Some organisations are replanting our favourite trees, and we are thankful. But it takes time for them to grow.)

Many kind humans tried to rescue us, and treated our burns, gave us water, did what they could. I know some of my friends were so terrified to be in human hands that they scratched and bit. We are, after all, wild. But many were rehabilitated and rehomed.

We are not cuddly – we do NOT like to be cuddled and find it very stressful. If you see us in a zoo, please just look and admire, but don’t try to hold us. A wise zookeeper would know and understand this. If he doesn’t, perhaps you could tell him, and save my brothers and sisters from further anxiety.

Please visit Australia and enjoy a wonderful experience. Now that you know more about the wild-life, you will understand that you are safe if you just let us be. That’s the message we want to give – everyone can love and appreciate nature, in harmony together.

Please don’t fear us – and help us not to fear you.


Fiction or non-fiction? Not sure. Koalas can't talk or write, but all the facts are true.
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