Are Australia’s unique and much-loved koalas facing extinction?

When I was little, my first stuffed animal was a koala. I loved the smoothness of it and cherished it for many years. To this day, it is still my favorite Australian animal. Unfortunately, there are worrying signs that koalas are disappearing from the Australian bush.

The Australian Koala Foundation said its research showed that the furry icons were suffering from urban development and climate change.

The number of wild koalas in New South Wales, where they are already listed as vulnerable, may have been reduced to as few as 8,000. Koala numbers suffered in Victoria as a result of severe bushfires and the resulting destruction of their natural habitat, including specific eucalyptus trees needed for food.

Where can you see koalas today?

Fortunately there are many sanctuaries in Australia where you can see these marsupials. All Australian zoos, including the Australia Zoo, have koala holdings, and every state in Australia has places where you can view these creatures in captivity. Just contact your local tourist office for more details.

My home state of Western Australia has a koala park called Cohunu. This location is particularly popular with visitors to Perth, including crew members from United States warships who visit when on recreational leave, following a tour of duty in the Middle East.

But where can you see koalas in their natural habitat, in the wild? A few years ago my wife and I took a trip down the famous Great Ocean Road in Victoria. We loved the spectacular coastal scenery, rainforests, and top surf destinations like Bells Beach and Lorne.

These were easy to find, but finding koalas in the wild was a bit more elusive, secret even. We had been told that there were special places along the Great Ocean Road where we could find them.

But where? While enjoying a beer with one of the locals in the Apollo Bay pub, the subject of koalas came up and he mentioned a number of secret places where they could be seen. He was very cautious due to his concern for the safety of these slow-moving and vulnerable animals and the dangers of large numbers of tourists, including those on tour buses, bothering and frightening them. Satisfied that we were genuine, he gave us a clay map showing where we could find them, “right down the road.”

The next morning we left following his instructions. There were no signs on the road. Not even a parking lot. A short walk through the bush and there they were.

We shared, briefly, the home of 9 koalas, some with babies, totally unconcerned by our presence and very vulnerable. So we understood why the locals were so protective and felt very privileged.

My wife could barely contain her excitement as we walked below them in the silence of the forest, taking photos and absorbing an experience we would remember forever.

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