Super Koala

The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is an arboreal herbivorous marsupial native to Australia, and the only extant representative of the family Phascolarctidae.

The koala is found in coastal regions of eastern and southern Australia, from near Adelaide to the southern part of Cape York Peninsula. Populations also extend for considerable distances inland in regions with enough moisture to support suitable woodlands. The koalas of South Australia were largely exterminated during the early part of the 20th century, but the state has since been repopulated with Victorian stock. The koala is not found in Tasmania or Western Australia.

In contrast to the situation on much of the mainland, where populations are declining, koalas, like many other species, can overrun smaller islands or isolated regions where they have been introduced. On Kangaroo Island in South Australia, koalas introduced some 90 years ago have thrived in the absence of predators and competition. Combined with an inability to migrate to new areas, this has caused the koala populations to become unsustainable and threaten the island's unique ecology. In particular, species of Manna Gum, native to the island, are being stripped by koalas at a rate faster than they can regenerate, endangering local birds and invertebrates that rely on them, and causing the extinction of at least one isolated population of manna. Koala numbers are estimated at over 30,000, with ecologists suggesting that the island can sustain 10,000 at most. Although culling has been suggested as a means to reduce koala numbers, with the South Australian government seriously considering such in 1996, this has met with fierce opposition both domestically and internationally, and the species remains protected. The popularity of the koala has made the possibility of a cull politically improbable, with any negative perception likely to impact tourism and a government's electability. In place of a cull, sterilization and relocation programs have had only limited success in reducing numbers thus far, and remain expensive. There is evidence that koalas relocated to the mainland have difficulty establishing themselves in the different circumstances. A mooted alternative to the complex sterilization method, wherein the animal must first be captured, are hormonal implants that can be injected via darts.

As with most native Australian animals, the koala cannot legally be kept as a pet in Australia or anywhere else. The only people who are permitted to keep koalas are wildlife carers and, occasionally, research scientists. These individuals are issued with special permits to care for koalas, but have to return them to the wild when they are either well enough or, in the case of joeys, old enough.