Box Jelly fish
"They say that the eye's are the windows to the soul, but really they lead straight to the brain, and the brain of the koala tells a story of evolutionary woe that you just wouldn't believe." Professor Tim Flannery
Like its closest relative the Wombat, the Koala has a rounded body, powerful but stumpy legs and a backwards facing pouch that it uses to raise its young which are born blind, naked, earless and less than 2cm long. But whereas the Wombat has taken to life underground which requires endless work to keep his tunnels maintained and mark out his territory, the Koala has taken to the trees.
As he feeds solely on eucalypt leaves and drinks the condensation that collects upon them, the Koala never needs to venture to the ground. The leaves contain strong smelling oils that act as a bug repellent, keeping the animal free from parasites. They also make the Koala smell like very strong cough lollies.
With little need to move about, Koalas spend about 80 per cent of the day sleeping, 10 per cent of the day eating and the remaining 10 per cent of the day just sitting. As such activities don't require a great deal of intelligence, the Koala has decided that a brain is an extravagance. Although Koalas have big heads, 40 per cent of the space inside is just fluid. The Koala is the only mammal on earth whose brain doesn't fit its skull.
Because Koalas spend so much of their day relaxing, their meat is very tender and delicious. So much so, McDonalds has developed a Koala burger for the Australian market known as the "Big K". Like most McDonald burgers, the actual percentage of meat is questionable. Even so, it is a favoured lunch time snack in Australia. (Of course, it should be pointed out that sentences like "McDonalds has a burger called the Big K" and "the author of this article is a compulsive liar" are quite interchangeable.)
Upon a particularly toxic species of eucalypt has evolved a highly aggressive and territorial sub-species of Koala known as the Dropbear. They aren't particularly dangerous, but will drop from the branches onto the shoulders of bushwalkers below, and proceed to claw and bite. There has been the occasional fatality caused by a jugular being punctured but usually the victim suffers nothing more than a nasty shock and a couple of scratches. More people are hospitalised each year from bee stings. Nevertheless, many Australians walk in the bush with umbrellas or wearing bicycle helmets to reduce the threat.
Of course, Dropbears aren't real, the story was was just made up to fool Americans. Or was it...? Australians have a black sense of humour and enjoying laughing at another's misfortune. As American visitor numbers to Australia have increased, so has awareness of the Dropbear legend making Americans reluctant to venture into the bush without wearing bicycle helmets as well. It may well be that portraying the Dropbear as a myth is a cunning ploy to lull Americans into a false sense of security. Fooled into thinking Dropbears aren't real, an Australian can lead an American into a known Dropbear region.
The Australian Parks and Wildlife Service has also been accused of downplaying the risk so as not to damage the tourism industry. A spokeswoman, who declined to be named, admitted:
Activity 1- What to do about the Koala plague?
In the 1930s, environmental scientists decided that Kangaroo Island would make a great Noah's ark for mainland species under threat. Koala, Possums, Platypus, and a Wombat were introduced. The plan worked so well that Kangaroo Island became the best place to see Australian wildlife today. Koalas proved to be a particular drawcard, and by the 1990s, were helping to attract more than 140,000 tourists to the island each year. The economic benefits of the tourism dollar gave a powerful incentive to retain much of the land as wilderness instead of clearing it for agriculture.
Despite wildlife thriving and the tourists flooding in, scientists felt that there was a problem. Because the Koala had been introduced by humans, they felt it was not endemic to the island and could cause problems for other species. In the words of David Paton, an environmental scientist from the University of Adelaide:
Aside being an expression of environmental xenophobia, the main concern seemed to be that Koalas were eating Manna gums to death. It seems that the trees could survive having all their leaves burnt off in a bushfire and would even re-sprout after being cut down with a chain swa, but could not survive when most of the leaves were eaten by Koalas.
With the Koala's eating too many leaves, scientists demanded that something be done, or more accurately, that they be funded to do something. Their solution was that they should be perpetually funded to catch and sterilise some of the estimated 16,000 koalas on the island and run public education campaigns about the dangers of Koalas.
For a while, the Labor government agreed that only did something needed to be done, but that a very expensive solution was the best solution of all. Consequently, between 1997 and 2005 the government paid for the sterilisation of 3,400 adult Koalas and relocated a further 1,000. Each sterilisation cost around $140. Needless to say, the remaining Koalas kept breeding, the gum trees remained under the threat of extinction, and environmental scientists kept asking for more money to manage the Koala problem and run their public education campaigns.
Seeing the absurdity of what was happening, some critics said there had to be a better way. Assess the following strategies below to determine if they could have been a better way.
Culling was a favoured option because it would have been cheap and quick. A couple of shooters would just have needed to be paid to spend a few weeks going from tree to tree shooting the Koalas sitting in them.
Long ago, gardeners developed solutions to keep Australian wildlife out of their favourite trees. These basically involved wrapping guards around the valued tree so the animals could not climb up. They are commonly found in city parks today. On Kangaroo Island, scientists could perhaps learn from gardeners. They would merely need to identify their favourite trees and wrap a guard around them.
Introduce the Tasmanian Devil
The Tasmanian Devil was probably in need of an ark as well, but was not introduced in the 1930s with the other animals. This was a shame because ecosystems need predators to pick off the weak, or just eat dead bodies.
If introduced, the Devil could prey on Koalas as they move from tree to tree as the Dingo does on the mainland. As an added bonus, it seems that in 2011, scientists discovered that a virus was wiping out the Koalas. A Devil could potentially kill the weakened animals before they can pass the virus on.
In 2005, the government mostly stopped funding the sterilisation programs. For some strange reason, the population of Koalas dropped by half after a virus mysteriously went through the population. On the surface, it seemed that nature self-corrects. As Koala numbers rose and their bodies became malnourished, the probability of harmful virus mutations increased. (Alternatively, maybe a virus jumped species after the Koalas were in a vet surgery being sterilised.) As an added bonus, the virus gave scientists something to request funding for.
Activity 2 - Industry
Below are methods that allow some people to make money out of the Koalas. How do you think working in each industry would affect attitudes to the Koalas?
Activity 3 - Icon
Below are examples of the image of the Koala being used in popular culture. For each example, try to speculate what the designers/selectors were hoping to achieve by using the image of the Koala.