by Ali Wunderman, USA
Australia’s mascot animal has been through a lot lately. Earlier this year, koalas suffered through bushfires, and now, a pandemic has everyone’s future feeling a little undecided. Koalas deserve a day to be celebrated, which is why Wild Koala Day was created, an international day to honor and enjoy koalas in their natural habitat. It will be celebrated on May 3, 2020, and anyone can participate, whether it’s by sharing pictures you’ve taken of koalas, wearing a gum leaf, or by committing to planting a tree in the future. You can find plenty of ways to celebrate on the Wild Koala Day website.
What exactly is Wild Koala Day?
#WildKoalaDay is an annual celebration of koalas and the habitats they call home. Because koalas are one of the most at-risk species when it comes to climate change, even seemingly insignificant impacts on the environment can mean destruction for koalas. For example, if the global average temperature goes up by 2 degrees C, it will be too much for koalas. They already suffer when it gets too hot, and many die if the temperature goes over 38C. The more this happens, the more likely they are to die out in most of their current range and be forced into colder, mountain areas. That would be fine, except the trees in those mountain areas might not be nutritious enough to sustain koalas, and they are famously fussy eaters!
This celebration gives us an opportunity to focus on what makes koalas so delightful, to learn about the many ways we can help these special animals, and to help people come together and share in their love of koalas. Anyone who has been out in the bush to see koalas living their natural lives comes back feeling like koalas are part of their family, but since going far from the house isn’t an option right now, we want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to observe these magical creatures no matter where in the world they happen to be.
Why does #WildKoalaDay matter so much this year?
Right now rehabilitated koalas are returning to the wild after enduring the bushfires from earlier this year. Koalas gained international attention thanks to videos and social media posts, and people from all across the globe became invested in their future.
Fortunately for the You Yangs forest, near Melbourne, Australia, this section of bush was not burnt in the recent Australian bushfires. A population of healthy wild koalas living there have been researched by social enterprise wildlife tour operator Echidna Walkabout since 2006, and they discovered that 2019-2020 has been the best year ever for koala joeys. This means there’s a lot of hope for the future, if we continue to support koala conservation, especially by protecting their habitat.
With all this international attention on koalas, and frankly, the need for some happy stories, there’s never been a better time to celebrate koalas and experience the joy they bring us.
Why wild koalas specifically?
“Many people in cities and overseas see koalas as slow, cute and cuddly,” explains Janine Duffy, founder of Wild Koala Day. “It doesn’t make sense that this lazy animal would need a whole forest to support it. Surely one or two trees would do? On Wild Koala Day we aim to show and share images of koalas living in trees, moving about their vast home ranges, socialising and behaving naturally as wild animals do. Their lives in the wild are full of interest, danger and decisions, and their responses are fascinating to watch.”
We also want to encourage the joy of seeing koalas in the wild because the practice of holding koalas for tourist photos promote the idea that this is the best, or even only way to see them. “It’s normal to think that,” Janine assures, “however, out in the forests their numbers are plummeting and regional extinctions are happening.”
Why does this matter? Because koalas are an indicator of forest health, and if their population in forests are declining, other animals and plants are too. “If we protect koalas in the wild we protect many, many other creatures including birds, reptiles, plants and insects. In fact it has recently been shown that koalas are one of the best umbrella species in Australia. Umbrella species are the best lifeforms to protect, because by protecting them you save others, for free.”
How you can celebrate #WildKoalaDay
On May 3rd, there are plenty of fun ways to get involved with #WildKoalaDay. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- share a picture of a wild koala on social media
- use the hashtag #wildkoaladay
- pin a gum leaf to your shirt
- if you don’t have a gum-leaf nearby, cut one out of recycled paper
- register to plant a tree
- sign a petition to protect a forest
You can also enjoy koalas by checking out any of these videos and more from the website.
And finally, traveling to Australia or going out into the bush may not be possible in the next few weeks, but when travel resumes, plan to visit koalas in their natural habitat. You can even help plant trees and rebuild their habitat! Echidna Walkabout is ready to take visitors out to where koalas live wild and free, and to plant trees for them.
NOTES & REFERENCES:
IUCN Koala included in species most vulnerable to climate change: https://www.iucn.org/content/species-climate-change-hit-list-named
IUCN Climate change hitting species with specialised diets hard: https://www.iucn.org/news/climate-change/201703/climate-change-hitting-species-hard-%E2%80%93-we-should-keep-eye-most-vulnerable
Society for Conservation Biology: Koalas included in top 7 umbrella species in Australia: https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cobi.13430