Backyard Koalas

In the bushy suburbs of my childhood, we’d hear monstrous night-time noises outside the house: guttural screams, deep grunts, wails that rent the stillness.

We assumed wild pigs, somewhere out there in the 12 acres of bush. And the tormented, rattling breathing creeping past my parents’ window at night? Well, we thought that was a goanna.

It was pure chance that we discovered these noises of the night are actually koala mating cries, made possible by the nocturnal marsupials’ extra pair of vocal cords (my brother had found a random video online – NOT of mating koalas!).

We’re lucky, considering koalas have been going the same way as China’s panda bears due to mass habitat clearing. Queensland is especially lax in koala conservation, and the recent World Wide Fund for Nature’s Living Planet report named Australia’s east coast as a deforestation front akin to the Amazon rainforest.

It’s a good thing koalas don’t really drop out of trees onto passers-by… This photo was taken in NSW during a 2011 koala survey. Check out the blog for the story!

We’ve since found koala claw marks on the gum trees in the yard. Here are more indicators of koalas in your life!

HABITAT INDICATORS

Look again at your trees. Apart from dramatic claw marks, tree characteristics can help you determine if you live near a popular koala food tree (note koala distribution photo).

Koalas only eat eucalypt leaves, and they’re picky: they’ll only only live in an area large enough for other koalas, that also has their favourite tree species. Depending on your area, the ribbon gum, red gums, tallowwood, swamp mahogany, and cabbage gum are primary koala food trees. Here’s a list of the main koala food trees according to location.

Learning to ID trees is fun and rewarding. Thanks to Google, I now know the old gum in the front yard is a forest red gum – a favourite of koalas in this area.

Image thanks to savethekoala.com

LEFTOVERS

Koala poo! Can’t see anyone in the branches? Check around the base of eucalypts for koalas’ distinctive droppings. Have a look here for the full description and other native animal poo profiles.

Photo credit: abc.net.au

THE LOOK

The koala’s distinctive appearance has made it a popular Australian emblem. One could even speculate that John Howard – Australia’s second-longest serving PM – actively cultivated a dashing resemblance to the marsupial to secure votes and for diplomatic purposes; although I would not advise raising this in general conversation.

Koalas range from 60–85 cm (24–33 in) long and weigh around 4–15 kg (9–33 lb). Their “pelage” (thick kind of fur common in mammals) ranges from silver grey to chocolate brown in colour. Mind you, koalas in Australia’s north are typically smaller and lighter in colour than koalas further south, where the winters are much colder.

Females are smaller and fluffier than males, with small, compact noses. Males have long, broad noses, stronger features, and less fur on their ears than females. If they’re a breeding male, they’ll have a dark scent gland on their chest.

That should help you in the annual Great Koala Count hosted by the National Parks Association of NSW, if you’re in the country next November.

 


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