Koala and kangaroo — two of Australia’s iconic marsupials.
Unlike placental mammals, which develop inside the uterus, marsupials have short-lived placentas that only nourish young for a few days before birth. The period between conception and birth is therefore comparatively shorter for marsupials. Newborn marsupials can be born without eyes or hind-legs but they still manage to climb up to mother’s pouch (this may just be a fold of skin or something more substantial), and cling to the nipple for milk, in lieu of the placental nourishment. This enables them to grow and develop outside the womb. For more information on marsupials, check out this informative website, CSIROscope.
A couple of months ago, I ventured out to one of Canberra’s wildlife reserves. Tidbinbilla is a 54sq kilometre reserve situated on the fringes of the Australian Alps. As well as being an important research and breeding facility for some of Australia’s endangered animals, Tidbinbilla is also home to a small number of koalas. Most of the koalas live in a large multi-hectare enclosure. When I visited, a number of trees had been signposted where koalas had last been seen. But koalas being koalas, they had moved on. We had to be contented with the three koalas residing in a smaller enclosure. It was still a thrill to see them, especially the baby clinging to its mother. At feeding time, rangers brought in branches pruned on site. Boy, those koalas can eat a lot of leaves! The trimmed branches must be delivered very speedily to the waiting koalas as the leaves rapidly lose their nutrition once pruned.
There has been a rapid decline in koala numbers in Australia, and koalas are listed as vulnerable in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. It is estimated that their numbers may be as low as 40,000 across Australia. Their longer term survival is increasingly tenuous as development collides with climate change. Every day threats include rampant de-forestation and urban expansion, vehicle strike, and predation by dogs. With so much habitat already lost and populations fragmented, koalas are more susceptible to the effects of drought, climate change (sea water incursion on coastal trees, wild fires) and disease. Recent bush fires in Queensland and northern NSW, starkly illustrate this point. Clearing of blue gum plantations and ferocious heatwaves in recent years in Victoria and South Australia, mean koalas may become vulnerable in these states too. Who can forget the heartbreaking images of koalas drinking from backyard pools and dog drinking bowls during heatwaves? Normally they would get enough moisture from leaves.
I can’t help think their days at Tidbinbilla are also numbered. In the event of a catastrophic bush fire, likes the one that occurred in 2003 which completely decimated the resident koala population, their fate seems sealed. They cannot escape from their enclosures. Last month’s bush fire was very close to Tidbinbilla, and I was exceedingly anxious until I heard that the reserve had been spared.
It has been estimated that koalas create over 9000 jobs and contribute between $1.1 billion and $2.5 billion per year to tourism in Australia. If money talks, you would think governments would take climate change a little more seriously. I guess tourists don’t donate to political parties like large mining companies do.
I thought you might also enjoy some photos of that other “K” marsupial – the kangaroo. Kangaroos are plentiful at Tidbinbilla, both in and outside the kangaroo enclosure. But life is hard these days. The extended drought means there is little pasture for grazing. So more kangaroos are on the move, including many that are pushed deeper into urban areas, where they regularly encounter the car (one bumped into me the other night), or become trapped in small areas of fragmented bush land that cannot support a large population.
Despite the drought, kangaroo numbers are still plentiful, however over-grazing is a real problem as it upsets delicate ecosystems, threatening other endangered species. While in farming communities, kangaroos compete with stock for food, leading to demands to drastically cull the number of roos.
This is my response to the Ragtag Daily Prompt — Connect. Because kangaroo and koala both start with ‘k’ and they are both marsupials. Good enough.
I have some photos of some Tidbinbilla wallabies and potaroos (so cute) that I will share with you next time.