Koala Phascolarctos cinereus - Captive Husbandry Guidelines
Stephen Jackson,1 Larry Perry,2 Paul O’Callaghan,3 Des Spittal,4 Liz Romer,4 Katie Reid4
1 Healesville Sanctuary
2 Taronga Zoo
3 Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
4 Currumbin Sanctuary
The koala Phascolarctos cinereus (meaning ash coloured pouched bear) and the large kangaroos are probably Australia's most popular mammals. The empathy created by the koala appears to be due to it being one of the few mammals that has a face rather than a muzzle, a trait it shares with humans (Lee & Martin, 1988).
The koala is nocturnal to crepuscular and is one of the largest arboreal mammals (4.1- 14.9kg), resting in trees without building nests (Strahan, 1995). The koala’s feet and hands are well developed and possess long, pointed claws, which are of great benefit in climbing branches and tree trunks. The fur is thick, short, fine and densely matted and has some of the best insulating properties found in marsupials, verging on those of some arctic mammals (Cronin, 1987). Its colour differs between different locations, ranging from light to dark grey on the back, although sometimes showing touches of brown and white or yellowish fur on the underbelly.
Due to their popularity, koalas are a good educational tool for increasing public awareness of conservation for both children and adults (Finnie, 1990). Koalas in zoos can be ambassadors for conservation, particularly as the major factors affecting the long term survival of wild koalas, and many other species, is the availability of suitable habitat. The koala can be used as a tool to provide the visitor with information of habitat conservation by providing stimulating graphics and keeper talks (Finnie, 1990).
Research within zoos can contribute to conservation of the koala through an increased understanding of animal behaviour, reproduction, physiology, nutrition and disease.