How many visitors can a Koala bear?

May 19, 2014 by Dr Andi Horvath
Credit: US Weekly

( —Koalas can become stressed by noisy and up-close encounters with human visitors, a University of Melbourne study has determined.

The koala is a much-loved Australian icon and extremely popular with foreign tourists, but little work had been done to understand how they cope with human interaction.

Dr Jean-Loup Rault from the University's Animal Welfare Science Centre said researchers set out to answer this question.

"Our study showed that up-close and noisy encounters with human visitors resulted in koalas showing so called 'increased vigilance', which is a common response to stress."

"Stress is generally an energy-costly mechanism. This could be a problem as koalas survive on an extremely low energy diet—largely made up of Eucalyptus leaves—and minimize energy expenditure by sleeping 20 hours a day."

Researchers tested the effect of visitor numbers, visitor noise, and visitor proximity on koalas at the Koala Conservation Centre, which forms part of the Phillip Island Nature Parks network.

"This work also highlights the value and importance of behavioural observations as a monitoring tool to assess visitor-related stress in koalas" according to Zoo's Victoria's Sally Sherwen, a collaborator on the study.

The research raises questions about the classic trade off between visitor education and animal welfare.

"Some wildlife parks offer close encounters or even hands on experiences with koalas," said Dr Rault.

"Only now are we beginning to understand the impact of these visitor encounters on ' behaviour and welfare."

Explore further: Vaccine for koala chlamydia close

More information: Megan J. Larsen, Sally L. Sherwen, Jean-Loup Rault, "Number of nearby visitors and noise level affect vigilance in captive koalas," Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 154, May 2014, Pages 76-82, ISSN 0168-1591,

Related Stories

Vaccine for koala chlamydia close

July 17, 2008

Professors Peter Timms and Ken Beagley from Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) said the vaccinated koalas, which are at Brisbane's Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, were mounting ...

Hanging in there: Koalas have low genetic diversity

October 23, 2012

A species relies on genetic diversity to survive and low diversity usually indicates that there has been inbreeding due to a decrease in population size. By looking at historic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from museum samples, ...

Koalas' low-pitched voice explained by unique organ

December 2, 2013

The pitch of male koalas' mating calls is about 20 times lower than it should be, given the Australian marsupial's relatively small size. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on December 2 ...

South Australia's citizens make koalas count

April 30, 2014

Results from South Australia's Great Koala Count have been published with researchers giving "citizens' science" the thumbs up for helping determine koala distribution and abundance through the State's first koala database.

Recommended for you

'Hog-nosed rat' discovered in Indonesia

October 6, 2015

Museum of Natural Science Curator of Mammals Jake Esselstyn at Louisiana State University and his international collaborators have discovered a new genus and species on a remote, mountainous island in Indonesia. This new ...

Stress in adolescence prepares rats for future challenges

October 5, 2015

Rats exposed to frequent physical, social, and predatory stress during adolescence solved problems and foraged more efficiently under high-threat conditions in adulthood compared with rats that developed without stress, according ...

Most EU nations seek to bar GM crops

October 4, 2015

Nineteen of the 28 EU member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory, the bloc's executive arm said Sunday, the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GM ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.