Heat stress is a major environmental stressor for koalas. During periods of extreme and prolonged heat, the risk of mortality substantially increases.

In the face of climate change, our native neighbours, the koalas, are facing new challenges, especially during prolonged heatwaves. As the United Nations declares 2023 the warmest year recorded in human history, it’s crucial to understand how rising temperatures impact these iconic Australian marsupials and the ways we can help.

Traditionally, koalas derive their moisture from eucalyptus leaves. However, during prolonged heat waves and droughts, the water content of leaves may not provide enough hydration. The toxins in eucalyptus leaves mean that koalas cannot simply eat more leaves to get the moisture they need, forcing koalas to seek water sources on the ground. This shift exposes them to various risks including vehicular encounters, dog attacks, drowning in pools and prolonged stress.

How you can help

Providing water stations

A tangible way to directly assist koalas and other wildlife during sweltering conditions is by establishing clean drinking water stations. Consider the following guidelines:

Credit: Southern Koala and Echidna Rescue Ltd.
  • Set up water stations in different size containers.
  • Add rocks or sticks for smaller animals to escape.
  • Place bowls in sheltered spots away from predators.
  • Keep pets indoors at a safe distance.
  • Change the water regularly for freshness

Making your pool safe for koalas

Koalas, in their quest for water, may inadvertently find themselves in backyard pools and can fall victim to drowning if they are unable to climb out. To ensure their safety, consider the following measures:

  • Attach a thick rope to a floating device, securing one end to a tree or post at the pool’s edge and letting the other end float in the water.
  • Fence the pool area with a koala-proof fence made from materials such as transparent glass, Perspex or steel.
  • Cover your pool with a tight pool cover when not in use.
  • Have an escape ramp or stairs in your pool.
A large floating rope in a pool attached to an empty plastic milk bottle.
Credit: Queensland Government

When to call for help

Should a koala remain on the ground without returning to the trees, intervention may be necessary. Look out for these symptoms indicating a koala is unwell and requires assistance:

Photo credit: Queensland Koala Crusaders
  • Inflamed, red, puffy, crusty, or weeping eyes.
  • Wet and dirty bottom.
  • Skinny and emaciated appearance.
  • Signs of cuts or bleeding.

In such instances, promptly contact your local wildlife organisation or the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL for assistance.

In the face of escalating temperatures and a changing climate, our koalas stand at the frontline of environmental challenges. Understanding their vulnerability during heatwaves empowers us to take meaningful action. By providing thoughtfully designed water stations, simple home and recognising signs of distress, we can all contribute to the well-being of these iconic marsupials.

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