5 Amazing Facts about Koala Joeys

1. Baby koalas are called Joeys. All marsupial babies are called joeys – kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, tasmanian devils, possums & bilbys. The meaning/origin is unknown – it’s possibly just a diminutive used at that time for any small animal. Joey as a baby marsupial was first recorded in use in 1839.

The use of the word joey may have started with the word being applied for a British fourpenny coin. Politician Joseph Hume promoted the use of the fourpenny, thus the coin developed the slang name joey after him.

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2. The first time you see a koala joey it is already 6 months old. Koala joeys are born as tiny naked creatures that don’t look anything like a koala. They move straight into the pouch, and remain unseen until they emerge at around 6 months old.

Actual emergence takes time. The joey first pokes his head out of the pouch at 5.5 months, and fully emerges at 6 to 7 months. By 8 to 9 months the joey becomes too large to get into the pouch, and spends all his time on his mother’s belly or back.

3. Koalas invented pro-biotics. Koala joeys eat ‘pap’ – a special substance produced by their mother that looks like poo and acts like a probiotic. It contains gut flora that the joey needs to process eucalyptus leaves. The mother koala produces it from her caecum (a special chamber in her large intestine) and delivers it from her cloaca, so though it looks a bit like poo, its not.

Pap is absolutely essential to a koala’s health. Wildlife Carers with orphaned koala joeys will frequently ask the wildlife care community for a postal delivery of pap from a koala mother – any koala mother will do, the closer the better but any is better than none. Imagine receiving that package of squishy green slurry in the mail!

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4. Koala joeys are born out of their mother’s central vagina. Female koalas have three vaginas.

Why? Its complicated, and deserves a complete blog on the subject. Suffice to say that the two lateral (side) vaginae are for the passage of sperm to the uteri, and the median (central) vagina is for birth.

5. Koala joeys are born high in a tree. There is no danger of them falling to the ground – they are so tiny they get trapped in their mother’s fur. At birth a koala joey weighs only 1 gram – as much as a single sultana/raisin – and is only 2cm long.

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It’s Koala Joey Season in the state of Victoria right now. All over the state wild koalas can be seen with joeys – hotspots are The You Yangs near Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road and Raymond Island, East Gippsland.

Echidna Walkabout runs the following tours to see koalas in the wild – with a high chance of seeing koala joeys each year from September to November:

Wildlife Journey 4 days

Great Ocean Road 3 days

Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD 1 day

For more information contact:

Janine Duffy

janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au

T: +61 (0)3 9646 8249

Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours & Koala Clancy Foundation

http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au http://koalaclancyfoundation.org.au

Wombats are not cute!

Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat

Wombats are impressive. Wombats are powerful. Wombats are highly intelligent. They are good-looking, yes, but cute is far too diminutive a word for Australia’s most powerful native.

One night at Cape Conran in far East Gippsland, Victoria, I travelled out alone in search of a satisfying method of watching wild wombats.  Most wild wombat experiences are of the disappearing, and disappointing, bottom of a wombat.  I was hoping to find a better way.

Wombats are plentiful at Cape Conran, but nervous of humans and difficult to see.  The country is thickly wooded with coastal scrub,  leaving the only possible wombat-viewing along the slashed roadside verge and in the grassy areas around the picnic ground.

Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat

On previous research visits I had come to these conclusions:

  1. Wombats are dignified creatures who resent bright lights and noise.
  2. Wombats will sometimes stick around in the open if you stop your vehicle the moment you see them and turn your headlights down.
  3. Wombats will occasionally tolerate a slow, quiet approach on foot as long as you don’t shine a bright light in their face.

On this night I rounded a corner to find a female Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat grazing ahead on the roadside. I stopped immediately, turned headlights down, but it wasn’t soon enough – she dashed into the bushes. Pity, she was such a big healthy girl, I would have loved to have spent some time with her. I was so disappointed that I just sat there for a minute in the cabin of the Landrover, wondering what on earth I was doing out here alone in the cold.

Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat

I noticed that the crashing sound wombats make in the undergrowth had stopped quite quickly. She hadn’t gone far. I couldn’t see her, but I wondered – is she just waiting for me to leave?

Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat

So I stayed and waited, freezing cold with the car windows open, but not willing to make a sound. It was ten minutes before she reappeared, hesitantly poking her intelligent eyes out of the bush. I didn’t move, for fear of ruining this beautiful moment.

Finally she emerged, her sleek chocolate brown body in full sight. I felt triumphant – it worked! For the next ten minutes I watched her while she grazed on the short grass by the road.

Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat

But this was a research trip, so I needed to find out if she had re-emerged because she accepted my presence, or if she simply didn’t realise I was still there. So I cleared my throat, softly. She dashed into the scrub. Damn! But then she stopped, head in the bushes, body still exposed. She waited. I waited. She turned around and returned to her grassy verge. Woo hoo!

Now I was really curious.  Had she partly accepted me, on the condition that I behave; or does the level of noise/disturbance govern her reaction?

After a few more minutes I cleared my throat again. She stopped grazing for a moment, looked in my direction, but then resumed her feast. A few minutes later I did it again, louder. This time no reaction.  Now I knew the answer to my question: She knew I was there and had accepted it.

Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat

Over the next half hour she grazed, I watched, making as much noise as I liked – coughing, talking to her softly, moving around in my seat, eating. I wasn’t rowdy, but I was making the sort of noises that groups of people can’t help making.  And she was fine with it.

Eventually I had to leave – we humans have trouble staying awake in the full dark! By this time she was so accustomed to me that even the horrendously loud starting of the Landrover engine wasn’t enough to rouse her.

Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat

To experience wombats in the wild you need to travel to south-eastern Australia. The cool forests of Victoria (east of Melbourne) and New South Wales (in the hills west of Sydney) are home to wombats, but they are best (only?) seen on cool nights. Tasmania is by far the best place to see them – the cooler temperatures year round allow for wombat viewing even in the daytime.

Our 4 day Wildlife Journey to far East Gippsland is great for wombat viewing in the cooler months of September, October, November, April and May. In fact, it was research for this tour that gave me this experience.

2 Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat babies
two baby wombats

Wombats are known to be the most intelligent of marsupials. They are also very large when full grown – up to one metre in length and 40kg in weight. Few native creatures are strong enough to challenge them, only humans are a real threat, so wombats have become the elephants of Australia: authoritative, stubborn, dignified.  They move away from us only because they hate fuss.   They’re not scared of us, they just don’t like our noisy, intrusive blundering.

Can you see why I can’t see a wombat as simply ‘cute’?

Watch out for next week: #GoannaWeek

Note: all the pictures in this post (except the one beside the road) are of baby/young wombats in care.  Getting good photographs of wild adult wombats is really difficult – my photography skills and equipment are just not up to the task.