A century ago, koalas were hunted for fur and food or shot out of trees because they were considered a nuisance. Their status evolved and Australians made the marsupial a national symbol. As of 2011, the koala is a featured element in Australia's $1 billion a year tourism industry. Koalas have few natural enemies or predators, and most of the threats they face are a result of the destruction of their habitat, Australia's eucalyptus forest.
Conservationists list dingoes, wild dogs introduced to Australia from Southeast Asia more than 3,000 years ago, as one of the koala's predators. Domestic dogs are also a common threat to koalas. Both are opportunistic hunters that attack koalas when they are on the ground. They pose the most significant threat to young, old and sick koalas. Healthy koalas are usually able to avoid or escape an attack by running and climbing into a nearby tree. However, they are less able to use that means of escape in areas where forests have been cleared or thinned out by development.
Birds of Prey
Several birds common in eastern Australia are listed as predators of koalas although they are not considered a significant threat to the species. The barking owl, an aggressive and skilled night hunter, preys on small mammals and can attack young and vulnerable koalas asleep in trees. Because wedge-tailed eagles hunt small mammals moving on the ground, they are included in the short list of the koala's enemies. However, they eat mostly carrion, and it is likely any koalas they feed on are dead from other causes.
The Red Fox
The European red fox was introduced to Australia in the 19th century by British settlers who wanted to bring the tradition of fox hunting to the continent. It became well-established through the mainland. On the central coast, it preys on birds and small mammals including the koala. Some wildlife experts believe dingoes have played a role in protecting koalas and other species by keeping populations of red foxes in check.
Despite their appreciation for the tourism dollars they bring into Australia, humans have been the greatest enemy of koalas. Large areas of eucalyptus forest have been cleared for industrial and urban development. Fewer and sparser trees force koalas down to the ground to search for food, which makes them vulnerable to predators and other dangers. A 2003 study on traffic and koala mortality in southeast Queensland determined that 60 percent of all koala deaths were caused by cars. Conservationists with the Australian Koala Foundation estimate 4,000 animals are killed each year by cars and dogs.
- Save the Koala: The Koala is Worth $1.1 billion & 9000 Jobs
- Aussie-Info.com: Koala
- L'Encyclopedie Mondiale Des Oiseaux : Wedge Tailed Eagle
- Michigan State University: What is Their Life Like?
- British Broadcasting Corporation; Richard Black : Dingoes "Could Help Rare Species"
- Gosford; New South Wales: European Red Fox
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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