4 April 2014
Asocial and dumb – but so cute
Just as proboscis monkeys are endemic to Borneo or just as dodos once existed solely in Mauritius, koalas can only be found in Australia, specifically on its southern coasts where they weigh twice as much as the ones on the eastern shores. It’s no surprise these cute marsupials have become an emblem of the country, although urbanisation and deforestation (Australia shamefully ranking fifth in the world by deforestation land area) have contributed to reduce their population to somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000.
Despite this somewhat low number, it was fairly easy to spot some of them as I was driving along the famous Great Ocean Road in the state of Victoria. There are some well known spots like the road going up the hill in Kennett River, and then I got lucky, spotting a sleepy one high up in a tree of a national park and a few ones feeding on the road to Cape Otway. It’s adorable to notice how they cling to trees with their sharp claws while using one forepaw to grasp leaves, suddenly stopping to slowly look around. Arg, I want to touch those big fluffy ears!
But don’t be mistaken: koalas are mostly nocturnal, sedentary and sleep twenty hours a day. It’s not that they are particularly lazy though: it’s actually due to their diet, essentially made up of eucalyptus leaves which unfortunately have limited nutritional and caloric content. This diet restriction may also explain why koalas can’t afford to have a large brain despite their large head. In fact, they have one of the smallest brains proportionally to their body weight among mammals… which means koalas are pretty dumb, unable to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances.
No wonder that after sleeping so much they feel a little cranky. Seriously, apart from mothers with their offspring, koalas don’t bond more than a few minutes each day – they’re completely asocial. I can let you imagine what these few minutes of "bonding" are all about. Think hard… okay, I know you have a naughty mind but if not, how do you think mammals reproduce, huh?! Well, even if I won’t post pornographic koala videos (I wasn’t lucky to witness their “social” behaviour although I did hear the male’s loud low-pitched bellows), you’ll perhaps be interested to know that, like most marsupials, the male koala has a bifurcated penis and the female has two lateral vaginas (although only one opening)… what the heck, seriously?!
Anyway, even if they’re dumb, slow, inactive, and not particularly friendly to one another, koalas are still part of the animal-I-want-to-bring-back-home-and-cuddle species – and it’s really all that matters, thank you very much.