Things we did not know about koalas include their six opposable “thumbs” and their downward-facing pouches. What else is unique about these eucalyptus-eating marsupial herbivores? This Koalas 101 from NatGeo Wild provides an excellent introduction to their anatomy, diet, sleep patterns, anthropogenic threats, and more.
A May 2019 announcement from the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) has warned that the “koala may be ‘functionally extinct’ in the landscape,” noting their estimate that there are “no more than 80,000 Koalas in Australia” [pdf]. Foundation Chairman Deborah Tabart OAM writes:
“Fire, flood (or drought), deforestation, hotter climate and other huge impacts on our environment need to be halted. The Koala forests of Australia are 20% of our continent – they could help with cooling our planet and making our lives more sustainable.”
To counter this news, AKF is pursuing a new Koala Protection Act, a conservation plan that’s similar to the United States’ successful Bald Eagle Endangered Species Act. What does “functionally extinct” mean? Pacific Standard explains:
The term ‘functionally extinct’ can describe a few perilous situations. In one case, it can refer to a species whose population has declined to the point where it can no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem…
For millions of years koalas have been a key part of the health of our eucalyptus forests by eating upper leaves, and, on the forest floor, their droppings contribute to important nutrient recycling. Their known fossil records date back approximately 30 million years so they may have once been a food source for megafauna carnivores.
Functionally extinct can also describe a population that is no longer viable… Finally, functionally extinct can refer to a small population that, although still breeding, is suffering from inbreeding that can threaten its future viability.
The San Diego Zoo has a Koala Cam for further observation. Their successful conservation and breeding program has created “the largest colony of koalas outside of Australia, with 20 living at the Zoo and more than 30 on loan to other zoos in the US and Europe.”
It seems, however, that baby joeys might be hard to weigh:
Also of note: Koalas can have deep voices. Watch that video next, then check out this joey moving in its mother’s pouch at the Taipei Zoo and a few more koala videos.