Animals A-Go-Go

Apr 24, 2001
Outside Magazine

Escape the monkey house and take your brood to where the wild things really are. Our kid-endorsed guide to sneezing lizards, daffy otters, and bellowing moose. (Sorry, no dinosaurs.)

Koalas in Kangaroo Island

Though the koala is right up there in the race for spokescreature for Australia (second only, it seems, to aging squintmeister Paul Hogan), there are few places on the continent where you can actually see it in the wild, since much of its natural habitat has been wiped out by development. But on little- populated Kangaroo Island (a 30-minute flight from the South Australia city of Adelaide) koalas are everywhere. That's the good news for families who dream of seeing the cuddly little marsupials outside of zoos. The bad news is that there are so many on the island that they are devouring the eucalyptus forests they require for survival and are in the process of having their population reduced through vasectomies and relocation to the mainland. Koalas were introduced to the island, Australia's third-largest, in 1920 at the height of demand for koala pelts; millions were killed throughout Australia before protective legislation was passed in the 1930s. The island's 18 national parks and conservation areas include the untouched bushland of Flinders Chase National Park, where you'll spot koalas asleep, limbs dangling, in the fragrant, mildly toxic trees that serve as their homes and constitute their entire diet. Don't expect to see a whole lot of zany koala antics; their extremely slow metabolism (and the fact that eating only leaves makes them slightly loopy) means they sleep about 19 hours a day. When they do move, usually at sundown, it is to shimmy down one tree and up another in search of an even more perfect branch on which to take a snooze.

WHAT ELSE YOU'LL SEE: Kangaroo Island kangaroos, Tamar wallabies, Australian sea lions, fur seals, brushtail possums.

MIGHT SEE: Short-beaked echidnas, platypuses, southern brown bandicoots, fairy penguins.

Filed To: Nature, Australia