The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus, or, inaccurately, koala bear[a]) is an arboreal herbivorous marsupial native to Australia. It is the only extantrepresentative of the family Phascolarctidae and its closest living relatives are the wombats. The koala is found in coastal areas of the mainland's eastern and southern regions, inhabiting Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. It is easily recognisable by its stout, tailless body and large head with round, fluffy ears and large, spoon-shaped nose. The koala has a body length of 60–85 cm (24–33 in) and weighs 4–15 kg (9–33 lb). Pelage colour ranges from silver grey to chocolate brown. Koalas from the northern populations are typically smaller and lighter in colour than their counterparts further south. These populations possibly are separate subspecies, but this is disputed.

Koalas typically inhabit open eucalypt woodlands, and the leaves of these trees make up most of their diet. Because this eucalypt diet has limited nutritional and caloric content, koalas are largely sedentary and sleep up to 20 hours a day. They are asocial animals, and bonding exists only between mothers and dependent offspring. Adult males communicate with loud bellows that intimidate rivals and attract mates. Males mark their presence with secretions from scent glands located on their chests. Being marsupials, koalas give birth to underdeveloped young that crawl into their mothers' pouches, where they stay for the first six to seven months of their lives. These young koalas, known as joeys, are fully weaned around a year old. Koalas have few natural predators and parasites, but are threatened by various pathogens, such as Chlamydiaceae bacteria and the koala retrovirus, as well as by bushfires and droughts.

Koalas were hunted by indigenous Australians and depicted in myths and cave art for millennia. The first recorded encounter between a European and a koala was in 1798, and an image of the animal was published in 1810 by naturalist George Perry. Botanist Robert Brown wrote the first detailed scientific description of the koala in 1814, although his work remained unpublished for 180 years. Popular artist John Gould illustrated and described the koala, introducing the species to the general British public. Further details about the animal's biology were revealed in the 19th century by several English scientists. Because of its distinctive appearance, the koala is recognised worldwide as a symbol of Australia. Koalas are listed as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Australian government lists populations in Queensland and New South Wales as Vulnerable. The animal was hunted heavily in the early 20th century for its fur, and large-scale cullings in Queensland resulted in a public outcry that initiated a movement to protect the species. Sanctuaries were established, and translocation efforts moved to new regions koalas whose habitat had become fragmented or reduced. The biggest threat to their existence is habitat destruction caused by agriculture and urbanisation.

The koala's geographic range covers roughly 1,000,000 km2 (390,000 sq mi), and 30 ecoregions. It extends throughout eastern and southeastern Australia, encompassing northeastern, central and southeastern Queensland, eastern New South Wales, Victoria, and southeastern South Australia. The koala was introduced near Adelaide and on several islands, including Kangaroo Island and French Island.[1] The population on Magnetic Island represents the northern limit of its range.[48] Fossil evidence shows that the koala's range stretched as far west as southwestern Western Australia during the late Pleistocene. They were likely driven to extinction in these areas by environmental changes and hunting by indigenous Australians.[49]

In Queensland, koalas are unevenly distributed and uncommon except in the southeast, where they are numerous. In New South Wales, they are abundant only in Pilliga, while in Victoria they are common nearly everywhere. In South Australia, koalas were extirpated by 1920 and subsequently reintroduced. Koalas can be found in habitats ranging from relatively open forests to woodlands, and in climates ranging from tropical to cool temperate. In semi-arid climates, they prefer riparian habitats, where nearby streams and creeks provide refuge during times of drought and extreme heat.

Koalas are herbivorous, and while most of their diet consists of eucalypt leaves, they can be found in trees of other genera, such as AcaciaAllocasuarinaCallitrisLeptospermum, and Melaleuca. Although the foliage of over 600 species of Eucalyptus is available, the koala shows a strong preference for around 30. They tend to choose species that have a high protein content and low proportions of fibre and lignin. The most favoured species are Eucalyptus microcorysE. tereticornis, and E. camaldulensis, which, on average, make up more than 20% of their diet. Despite its reputation as a fussy eater, the koala is more generalist than some other marsupial species, such as the greater glider. Since eucalypt leaves have a high water content, the koala does not need to drink often; its daily water turnover rate ranges from 71 to 91 ml/kg of body weight. Although females can meet their water requirements from eating leaves, larger males require additional water found on the ground or in tree hollows. When feeding, a koala holds onto a branch with hindpaws and one forepaw while the other forepaw grasps foliage. Small koalas can move close to the end of a branch, but larger ones stay near the thicker bases. Koalas consume up to 400 grams (14 oz) of leaves a day, spread over four to six feeding sessions. Despite their adaptations to a low-energy lifestyle, they have meagre fat reserves and need to feed often.

Because they get so little energy from their diet, koalas must limit their energy use and sleep 20 hours a day; only 4 hours a day are spent in active movement. They are predominantly active at night and spend most of their waking hours feeding. They typically eat and sleep in the same tree, possibly for as long as a day. On very hot days, a koala may climb down to the coolest part of the tree which is cooler than the surrounding air. The koala hugs the tree to lose heat without panting. On warm days, a koala may rest with its back against a branch or lie on its stomach or back with its limbs dangling. During cold, wet periods, it curls itself into a tight ball to conserve energy. On windy days, a koala finds a lower, thicker branch on which to rest. While it spends most of the time in the tree, the animal descends to the ground to move to another tree, walking on all fours. The koala usually grooms itself with its hindpaws, but sometimes uses its forepaws or mouth.

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