A little koala joey, eating breakfast, with its mother
Even though the koala is often referred to as a bear because of its stout body, round tufted ears, and dark nose, it belongs to the marsupial family, which includes kangaroos and opossums. Marsupials are distinguished from other mammals by a pouch that aids in the rearing of their offspring.
Koalas breed during Australia’s spring and summer seasons that run from October through May. The gestation period is 35 days, after which the mother gives birth to a single offspring merely ¾ of an inch long that climbs from the cloaca into a rear-facing pouch and attaches to one of the mother’s two teats, where it will remain for six months. At seven months, the joey is slowly weaned from milk to eucalyptus by feeding on partially digested leaves in the form of pap as they leave the mother’s pouch. By the time the joey is a year old, it leaves the safety of its mother’s pouch and will reach sexual maturity by the age of two, with a typical lifespan of up to 20 years.
Status: At one time, koalas faced the threat of extinction by fur hunters. Thankfully, in the late 1920’s the Australian government instated a nationwide ban on the killing of these docile marsupials. Listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the koala population still faces obstacles that are diminishing their numbers. Over-browsed forests, brushfires, drought, infection, disease, urban encroachment, and even motorists threaten the koala population.