There are few animals on earth more iconic than the koala. This cuddly marsupial is found in Australia and is easily recognizable by its furry body, big ears, spoon-shaped nose, and overall adorable face.
Though they may look harmless munching on eucalyptus leaves up in trees, some legends portray the koala not as a unique and interesting animal that is inseparable from Australian culture, but as a dangerous predator of man.
Could this possibly be true? Are koalas actually dangerous?
Koalas can be surprisingly dangerous. They have large teeth, and sharp claws and are definitely unfriendly in the wild. Besides their physical threat, many also have Chlamydia which can be transmitted to humans.
So no, koalas are not terrible killers of men, but they can be quite dangerous like most wild animals.
You might be sorely tempted to get closer and touch those furry ears, but you’d be making a terrible mistake that might land you in the ER. Learn more about koala behavior and their sometimes nasty run-ins with humans here.
Understanding Koala Behavior
In the wild, the herbivorous koalas live in eucalyptus forests and spend most of their time high up in the trees munching on leaves. Koalas are very sedentary animals and tend to move slowly both in the tree canopy and on the ground.
Koalas are mostly nocturnal animals, meaning they sleep through most of the day and are active at night.
Because they are generally inefficient eaters with few food sources and slow digestion, most koalas avoid wasting energy or engaging in any high-intensity activity unless totally necessary.
Though they are often considered to be cute and sociable animals since mothers rear young in their pouches and carry them on their backs, they are actually quite solitary animals that spend most of their time alone.
Koalas only really come together during mating season which takes place between December and March, and even then males and females go their separate ways after breeding.
Mating is often a brutal ritual, full of combat, status challenges and loud, hair-raising bellowing. Totally out of character with most folks impressions of these iconic critters.
Most social interactions between koalas are limited to mothers and offspring, though some friendly individuals have been observed grooming one another.
Are Koalas Really Bears?
No, this is a misnomer. Though a common appellation for the koala, they are not related to bears.
Are Koalas Aggressive Toward Humans?
Not usually. Generally speaking, koalas are non-aggressive animals that pose little threat to humans. However, they can and will attack humans if they feel threatened.
I Thought Koalas Were Nicknamed “Drop Bears” for their Ferocity?
This is an urban legend. Australian locals love to terrify witless visitors with tall tales of a supposedly carnivorous koala relative called the drop bear.
Koalas might be somewhat dangerous to people, but not to the degree they are portrayed in these wild stories.
Have Koalas Ever Attacked Humans?
Yes. There are several well documented koala encounters that resulted in bad outcomes for the people involved. Most attacks are not truly unprovoked, even in the wild, and typically occur when people get too close or try to touch the koala.
How Do Koalas Attack?
Koalas can attack both with their large, sharp teeth and stout claws. Koala claws are actually very sharp and can reach up to 3 inches in length.
Koalas also have large, forward facing incisors that can do some serious damage if they bite you. Most victims of koala attack have serious puncture wounds from teeth and lesser scratches or lacerations from their claws.
What Causes Koala Aggression?
Koalas are most likely to become aggressive in a couple of situations: when a mother feels her cub is threatened, or when a pregnant mother is approached, or whenever any koala is cornered or captured.
Koalas are especially touchy during mating season when testosterone levels are high.
When people get too close to a wild koala or try to touch them, it will cause the animal to feel stressed and may lead to an aggressive response of defense. Like all wild animals, they can be unpredictable!
Do Koalas Eat People?
No, thankfully. Any tales to the contrary are lies. Koalas are entirely herbivorous, plant eaters, and though they do not exist entirely on eucalyptus leaves (as many people believe), they eat nothing but plants.
Are Koalas Territorial?
They can be, though usually not against people without provocation. Koalas might decide to defend their tree, especially if there is not another tree in easy reach.
How Strong is a Koala?
Surprisingly strong. Though not what you would call athletic, koalas do not struggle to cling to and scale trees, even with grown young on their back.
This means they are more than strong enough to inflict some serious injuries with their powerful claws and large teeth if they wanted to.
What Should You Do if You See a Koala?
If you see a koala in the wild, for the love of all that is good stay away from it. Do not approach it, try to touch it, or corner it.
There is no guarantee that even the seemingly most docile koala will not attack if provoked. Just enjoy the experience from a distance and take plenty of pictures.
What Should You Do if Attacked by a Koala?
If you are attacked by a koala, you should try to run if you can. Humans have a significant mobility advantage on the ground, and if you can get away quickly enough, the koala will likely not pursue.
If you cannot run or the koala does pursue you, try to use a branch or other object to shield yourself. If push comes to shove and you must fight it off, try to keep clear of its mouth.
Seek medical attention as soon as possible after the attack, even if you are not hurt. Koalas can carry some nasty diseases that will ruin your day. See the next section.
Can Koalas Carry Diseases People Catch?
Yes, they sure do, and they carry a nasty one you would not expect: Chlamydia! Yes, that one, the STD one.
Koalas are actually the only other animal besides people known to carry this disease, and about 70% of them have it.
Most koalas with chlamydia are asymptomatic, but the disease can cause blindness, infertility, and even death in severe cases.
If a koala urinates on you or you are otherwise exposed to it and have any open wounds on your skin, you might get infected.
So, if you get attacked by a koala, not only should you worry about being clawed and bitten, but you should also get to a doctor ASAP and get checked out for infection.
Aside from chlamydia, koalas also carry the usual assortment of parasites like fleas, ticks, and mites. These are not generally a major problem for people unless you have an allergy to them, but they can cause skin irritation.
Koalas are also pretty nasty animals, all in all, and regularly regurgitate food to chew it again and routinely secrete a sort of pap from their anus that is fed to young.
To say this exposes all parts of the koala to shocking levels of bacteria is an understatement. Koalas are basically walking petri dishes; keep your distance!
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.