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Koalas

Protecting Koalas

We are very lucky in Coffs Harbour to have one of the largest koala populations in NSW. To help protect these iconic animals, Coffs Harbour City Council has a Koala Plan of Management - the first to be adopted in the State of NSW. This plan aims to apply a consistent approach to the protection of our local koala population. The Koala Plan of Management is guided by a Koala Advisory Management Committee, which also helps implement its objectives.   

Learn more about how we are protecting Koalas in Coffs Harbour.

What makes koalas unique?

Nothing else looks like a koala. The dense woolly fur which is grey above and lighter white to cream below, small eyes and a large head supporting those substantial ears makes koalas easy to identify.  

Koalas are powerful animals built perfectly for their home in the trees. Their hands and feet are designed for grasping and granular pads on the sole and palms help with gripping even the smoothest of trees. A koala hand has 3 fingers separate from the other 2, similar to their feet which have the first toe opposed and a set of grooming claws. Their extensive array of muscles and thick bones combine to form an animal built for strength and agility in the trees.

Koalas weigh a hefty 14 kilograms but are great climbers, fast runners and good swimmers - although they can appear clumsy out of their treetop habitat.

They are an evolutionary triumph, being able to exist on a diet of toxic eucalypt leaves, which could kill other animals. Over 15 million years, koalas have evolved to handle the toxic chemical content of eucalyptus in the Australian forests. This leaf-eating machine has a great set of incisor teeth for striping leaves, powerful jaw muscles and grinding teeth, plus extra-large cheek pouches to store food. A koala's appendix is over 2m in length and this organ is the reason for their digestive prowess as it is able to cope with the cellulose component of leafy green matter.

The koala has solved the nutrient deficient and heavy toxin problems of its diet by being a little lazy, sleeping a great deal of the day. Koalas do drink water but can survive for long periods without it.  

What they eat

Koalas are fussy eaters and prefer only a small number of eucalypts and other species as a direct food source in the Coffs Harbour area. Some of their favourites include:

  • Tallowwood Swamp Mahogany, 
  • Small fruited grey-gum,
  • Broad-leafed paperbark, 
  • Forest oak.      

Why are koalas in some areas of Coffs and not others?

The fertility of soils equates directly with the palatability of the average gumleaf. Koalas will consume 500grams of leaves a day, but the difficulty of digestion varies with the landscape and the seasons. With a series of oil glands and tough leathery outer layers of the the eucalypt leaf, they are generally poor in nutritional value with:        

  • 50% water 
  • 20% fibre 
  • 10% tannins and 
  • the rest is nutrients.

The micro-organisms that live koalas' guts, allow them to extract the nutrients and available water from the leaves. How hard the system needs to work depends on the leaves being consumed and koalas are very picky.

The koala Social Scene

Koalas have a complex social structure. As they live in established home ranges they may appear solitary, but these ranges are interconnected. 

Males during the breeding season are easy to distinguish due to the large scent gland on their chest which is stained brown. They are quite vocal also during the breeding season and are often found wandering between the home ranges of female koalas. After mating, the young are born within 35 days and spend the next 6 months in their mother's pouch. The young are dependant on milk and must be supplied a sloppy material called pap, which is made of partly digested plant material and the bacteria the young koala will need to digest eucalypt leaves. Young animals, especially males, leave their mother home range at about one year of age.  

How you can help protect koalas

Always remember koalas are local residents too. Be a responsible dog-owner - especially at night when the koalas are more active. Koalas are quite slow on the ground and dog attacks on koalas are responsible for a large percentage of deaths each year.       

  • Report stray dogs - in your area to the Council Rangers on ph: (02) 6648 4000.
  • Watch out on the roads - especially during the months of August to Dec. "Blackspots" for koala deaths have been identified in the Koala Plan of Management, but any habitat which borders our busy roads has the potential take a koala's life.  

When are you most likely to spot a koala?

The largest koala concentrations are found in the area from Korora in the north to Bonville in the south, extending over the range to Karangi and Dairyville.  Look for the signs on the tree as well as the ground.
The best areas to see a koala are:

  •  Coffs Creek Walkway,
  • Botanical Gardens and
  • Bongil Bongil National Park.  

What can you do to create a koala-friendly backyard?
First you need to consider the nature of your backyard and plant species suitable for the conditions. This not only includes the aspect, soil conditions and traditional habitat, but the safety of your property and its services.

If you are lucky enough to live - without dogs - close to a forested area frequented by koalas and are willing to remove or modify external fence, then you will be able to plant tree species that will attract koalas.

For more information, contact:

  • Coffs Harbour City Council: Strategy & Sustainability Branch Biodiversity Unit Ph:(02) 6648 4000
  • Office of Environment & Heritage Coast Area Office ph: (02) 6652 0900 Mid North.
  • Coast WIRES ask advice about injured or sick animals in the Coffs Harbour Area.1300 094 737