• One of Australia’s most iconic native species, koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) are moderately large marsupials found throughout much of the eastern and south-central part of the continent. Though their range has been reduced from historical levels, koalas can still be found in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. Koalas have a highly specialized diet, surviving almost entirely on the leaves of eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus leaves are relatively low in energy, and toxic, so koalas have a specialized digestive system to help them process their diet.

    Koala populations have plummeted since the early 20th century when large numbers were hunted for their fur. Settlements have also led to habitat loss throughout much of its range. Now protected, koala numbers are considered relatively stable. However, future extreme weather events pose potential challenges for the species. Koalas are well-known for rarely drinking water, instead getting all of their hydration from their diet. Extreme, prolonged droughts, especially in the interior regions, have contributed to koala range declines. Australia does not have a national recovery plan for the population, but individual states have several maintenance, monitoring, and recovery plans. In addition, captive breeding facilities and reintroduction programs operate throughout its current range.

    1. Where can Koalas be found?

      Koalas are endemic to Australia and can be found in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.

    2. What do Koalas eat and why is this a challenge? How do Koalas cope with this challenge?

      Koalas eat the toxic leaves of eucalyptus trees, and they cope with the toxicity using a specialized digestive system.

    3. What were the koalas’ biggest challenges 100 years ago and today?

      Koalas were hunted in great numbers during the early 20th century, but now populations are relatively stable, if not smaller in number. Today, koalas face challenges from expanding settlements, car strikes, and severe weather events such as droughts.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    captive breeding Noun

    reproduction of rare species controlled by humans in a closed environment, such as a zoo.

    digestive system Noun

    series of organs and glands responsible for the ingestion, digestion, and absorption of food. Also called the alimentary canal.

    eucalyptus Noun

    tree native to Oceania.

    marsupial Noun

    mammal that carries its young in a pouch on the mother's body.

    native Adjective

    indigenous, or from a specific geographic region.

    toxic Adjective