Sunday, June 12, 2011

Koala Fever!... and Chlamydia

In my nearly year and a half in Australia, I’ve had the privilege of seeing quite a few Australian animals in the wild – notably kangaroos, wallabies, emus, snakes (ick!), various birds, and – my favourite – the quokka.  One major one that hadn’t made the list so far was the koala, but that was all about to change on our way to Melbourne.

The Great Ocean Road is notorious for having wild koalas all alongside it, and the koalas are one of the bigger tourist draws.

As my friend Karen told me before I went, it isn’t hard to find them either – just look for all the cars stopped alongside the road and mass amounts of tourists with their cameras pointed up toward the treetops.  At the end of the first day’s drive, we saw a bunch of cars stopped on the way to the Cape Otway Lighthouse.  I pulled over and found that Karen’s advice was spot on.  This little creature was up in the trees:

Weeeee!!!!  A koala in the wild!!!!  I zoomed in for a better shot:

There were a few others in the area, but they were all high up in the treetops which made photography difficult.  After ooo-ing and aah-ing for a few minutes, we hopped back in the car and headed toward the lighthouse.  It wasn’t even a few minutes later when we saw more cars pulled over.  This time, the view was up close and personal:

This koala was at ground level and probably made a great photo op for dozens of tourists that day.

It was like we hit the koala jackpot, but the real winnings would be the next day when we drove to the town of Kennett River.  A street called Grey River Road is famous for its koalas, and sure enough, there was another one right there at eye level when we arrived:

Could the photo op get any better???

With our interest peaked, we popped into the Koala Conservation Centre on Phillip Island the next day.

Liz finally got the chance to snuggle with a koala:

If they weren’t already, our common misconceptions of koalas as cute, snuggly creatures were put to rest:

Those guys have super sharp claws so they can grip into branches.  And if they can grip into branches, they can certainly grip into people too.

I thought I had done quite a bit of research on koalas, but there was one major thing I missed in all of my reading.   I found it on this sign:

Koala chlamydia?!?!?  They say it so nonchalantly and offer no further explanation.  Research after the fact taught me that chlamydia has been a major problem in koala populations for ages.  It causes blindness, urinary tract issues, and reproductive problems in koalas.  Nobody knows exactly how the disease was introduced to koalas, but it has been one of the major factors contributing to the koala’s decline.

On a related note:  my research also taught me that koalas, like many other marsupials, have bifurcated penises.  That basically means that their penis forks into two branches, each with its own head.  That is only appropriate as female koalas have two vaginas and two uteruses.  Crazy, eh?!?!?

Maybe the double contact quickens the spread of the disease?  Or maybe there is an abundance of koala sex workers?  Do they trade eucalyptus leaves for carnal pleasures?

Whatever it is, these sharp-clawed little chlamydia-carrying prostitute animals are slightly less cute than they were before…

But they’re still really cute!

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