If obtained very young, koalas have been tamed, becoming affectionate pets. A couple in North Queensland raised such a pet from the time she was three months old. This tiny female “cub” cried every night until finally comforted by a piece of koala fur tied around a pillow and placed alongside her in a basket as a substitute for her mother. They named her Teddy, and until she was old enough to begin a solid diet of gum leaves, she thrived on cow’s milk, which she lapped up like a kitten.
The trouble was that Teddy got so used to humans that she hated being left alone and loved to be carried around like a child. She really became quite a nuisance. Her contented life stretched into 12 years. So, yes, koalas can be tamed, but it is now illegal in Australia to keep them as pets.
Decimated but Now Protected
At the turn of the century, koalas were so plentiful that millions of them were reported to be on the continent. But they were such easy targets, sleeping during the daytime in forks of eucalyptus trees, that thousands were shot just for sport.
Then, when demand arose for their soft, silver-gray fur, slaughter began in earnest. For example, in 1908 nearly 60,000 koala pelts were sold in Sydney alone. And in 1924 over two million furs were exported from the eastern states of Australia.
Happily, the Australian federal government realized the threat of extinction for this cuddly creature and in 1933 passed laws to prohibit export of koalas and koala products. The koala is now a protected animal.
Other countries have tried to keep koalas in their zoos but with poor success. The specialized diet of fresh eucalyptus leaves is difficult to maintain. However, success has been achieved in the American state of California, largely because the climate is suitable for growing eucalyptus trees. Now, zoos at San Diego and Los Angeles have healthy, thriving koala populations. More recently, koalas have been sent to Japan, where carefully studied methods are being used to ensure that they are kept healthy.—See Awake!, August 22, 1986.
Will the Cuddly Koala Survive?
It seems that a common-sense approach to prevent wanton slaughter may increase its prospects for survival. Author Ellis Troughton concluded his book Furred Animals of Australia with this hopeful wish: “The fascinating koala is utterly harmless everywhere. What a keen delight for all if they were plentiful enough to haunt the homesteads and suburbs as possums often do! May their numbers miraculously increase to browse peacefully in sheltered forest reserves.”
Animal lovers everywhere echo this noble hope, not just for the cuddly koala but for all the beautiful creatures living with us on planet Earth that have been put here for our pleasure and enjoyment.