November Koala of the Month: Cloud

CloudKoala of the Month is Cloud!

Cloud is a wild female of approx 10 years old. She lives in the You Yangs and we have known her since 2006.

Last week she was seen sharing a tree with a much younger male koala, Darren. It is breeding season for koalas, so maybe he was suggesting some romance.  Or possibly, as it’s still early in the season, he was just ‘chatting her up’ in the hope it would lead to romance later!

CLOUD020612mrlowres2textABOUT CLOUD & OLDER FEMALE MARY:

Cloud, Koala of the Month, has always been quite elusive. From 2006 – 2008 she was only seen about 10 – 12 times each year, about once a month. She shared part of her home range with Mary, an older, high-status female. Then in 2009 Cloud was seen over 30 times from Jan to August. Why the sudden increase? We may never know.

Interestingly Koala Mary died in September 2009. From August until her death she was in koala hospital. After her death Cloud was hardly seen at all for 2 years.

But now she’s back! In 2012 we saw her over 12 times, and this year around 15 times already. Could she be taking over Mary’s old home range?

cloud040312p14lowrestext

ABOUT CLOUD & BABIES:

We’ve known Cloud for 7 years, and she’s never had a baby. There were 2 years in which we didn’t see a lot of her, so it is possible, but not likely, that she could have had a baby in one or both of those years.

It raises an interesting point though – koalas in the You Yangs do not have a high fecundity. In 2007 we had a 0% birth rate to 12 females, in 2008 a 10% birth rate (19 females). In the Brisbane Ranges population we recorded similar low birth rates. Both these populations are healthy and fairly stable (not overabundant or increasing like some populations on islands in Victoria & SA), in fair to good habitat. Is a low birth rate normal? Is it a method of ensuring population stability? Koalas are fairly long-lived, with few predators, so they don’t need a high rate of reproduction to sustain their community.

This contrasts strongly with the overabundant populations of koalas on some islands (and some mainland populations in islands of vegetation) where most females breed every year for most of their lives. These populations boom and then crash as the food source is destroyed. Phillip Island is one example – once there were koalas everywhere, and now there is only a tiny, semi-captive population in the Koala Conservation Centre.

Koalas are very vulnerable – and we don’t yet know enough about their breeding biology to prevent these crashes. We are hoping that our Koala Research can help answer some of these questions.

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