Did you know that the Koala ‘bear’ is not a bear at all? It is a marsupial, which means that it carries its young in a pouch until they are mature enough to face the world outside. Several centuries ago when English settlers arrived in Australia and saw the koala they thought it was a bear and hence the name koala ‘bear’. Koalas get their name from an aboriginal word ‘koala’, which means ‘no drink.’ Koalas need to drink water very rarely as their diet of eucalyptus leaves gives them all the moisture they need. But they do drink water if they need to. An adult koala eats about one kilogram of leaves every night.
Koalas are nocturnal animals, active during nights and asleep during the days. Koalas sleep for 18-20 hours. You may call them lazy but their diet makes it necessary that they sleep for long hours. Eucalyptus leaves, though highly toxic and low in nutrients, are rich in fibre, and digesting all that fibre requires a lot of energy, which is best conserved by sleeping. The koala’s digestive system is specially designed to detoxify the poisonous chemicals in the eucalyptus leaves. Its caceum or the fibre-digesting organ (present in all mammals including human beings) is very long (200 cms). The millions of bacteria present in the caceum break down the fibre in the leaves so that they can be easily absorbed. A joey (or a baby koala) is prepared for a eucalyptus diet in the mother’s pouch. When the joey is about six months old, the mother secretes a juicy substance called pap which has all the micro-organisms necessary to fight the toxins present in the eucalyptus leaves.
And finally did you know that the koala is the only other animal, apart from a human being, to have individual fingerprints? Like humans, each koala has a distinct fingerprint pattern. While koala fingerprints may not exactly match human fingerprints, there are enough similarities for an ordinary man to confuse a koala with a human.