Curtin, Charles B. Department of Biology, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska.
Last reviewed:April 2021
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A single species, Phascolarctos cinereus, which is the sole extant member of the family Phascolarctidae in the mammalian order Marsupialia (pouch-bearing animals). The koala (see illustration) is a small, clean, affectionate animal that weighs from 5 to 8 kg (11 to 17.6 lb) when mature. Koalas are restricted to eastern and southeastern Australia, which are regions in which eucalyptus trees grow. Not only do these marsupials have a specialized diet of eucalyptus leaves, but the leaves must be of a certain age from a specific species of tree, and the tree must grow upon a certain type of soil. Each adult will eat an average of 0.9–1.5 kg (2–3.3 lb) of leaves each day. Whereas the diet is a definite limiting factor to an increase in the population, millions died from epidemic diseases at the turn of the twentieth century, and later thousands were killed for their fur. These animals are now strictly protected by the Australian government because their numbers are small, amounting to a population of less than 80,000. In addition, the amount of habitat destruction and deforestation in many locations in Australia has severely limited the availability of land in which the koala can inhabit. Exportation of the koala is prohibited. See also: Australia; Deforestation; Eucalyptus; Mammalia; Marsupialia
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