Monday, June 13, 2016
On our last Working Bee, Sunday the 6th Of June, some of us where lucky enough to see a new arrival to the Reserve, a Koala! According to long time resident and member of Friends of Upper Sweetwater, the last koala in the reserve was seen 25 years ago and sadly was killed by a dog attack.
So of course some information on Koalas seemed necessary.
The koalas closest living relative is the wombat!
They are only found on the East Coast of Australia, are herbivores and eat 200-500g of leaves each day. Koalas from different regions eat the leaves from different gum trees. In Frankston they feed on our local Narrow Leafed Peppermint and Manna gums. Eucalyptus leaves are fibrous and low in nutrition. The koala has a specialised adaptation to cope with this by having a low metabolic rate, which allows the food to be retained in the digestive system for a long period of time which maximises the amount of energy to be extracted. Koalas also sleep between 18-22 hours each day to conserve energy.
As it is colder in Southern Australia, our koala`s fur is longer, shaggier, darker. They are also considerably larger than koalas up North. Males are distinguished by their brown scent gland in the centre of their chest, which they rub on tree trunks to deter other males. Males live for up to 10 years depending if their is enough habitat for them to disperse to.
Females start breeding from 3-4 years of age, live for about 12 years and may produce 5-6 offspring in her lifetime.
Koalas are highly territorial and individual members maintain their own `home range', which consists of home range trees and food trees. These trees provide the koala with food, shelter and places to socialise, which supports the koala for life. Home ranges of individual koalas overlap with their neighbour where social interaction occurs. After a koala has died, other koalas will not move into the empty home range for about a year, during which time scent markings and scratches of the old owner disappear.
When a young koala becomes sexually mature, it must leave the mother`s home range and find a territory of it`s own. The young koalas aim is to find another breeding group to join.
Placing roads or houses between a koalas home range can cut the koala off from adequate food and shelter and risk injury or death from dogs, cars and disease. Because of the overlapping structure of the koalas home range it can not simply move along to the next patch as the trees next door already belong to someone else and cannot support another koala. We can help koalas by keeping our dogs on leads in our Reserves, lock the dogs up at night when the koalas are active and plant Manna and peppermint gums in our gardens.
FUN FACT: Koalas are the only animal (like humans) that have individual fingerprints!