Wild Koalas are found along the east coast of Australia and southern regions including South Australia. They typically inhabit the open eucalypt woodlands and the leaves from these trees make up the majority of their diet.
The Koalas’ gut flora is able to break down the toxins present in the eucalyptus leaves. The leaves have little nutritional value and the Koala is compelled to limit their energy use by sleeping up to 20 hours a day.
Though Australia has over 600 species of eucalypts, Koalas have a preference for about 30 species.
On average a Koala consumes 400 grams of leaf a day, usually spread over four or more feeding sessions. Despite their adaptation to a low energy diet, they have little fat reserves and need to feed often.
Their restricted diet and the need to eat regularly poses many challenges for wildlife parks housing Koalas. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures has five plantations of Koala food trees. Each Koala requires at least 500 plantation trees to meet its yearly dietary intake.
The most favoured species are Eucalyptus microcorys, E. tereticornis, E. camaldulensis and E. Pelita. Between the five plantations, we grow ten species of eucalypt allowing us to offer variety to our Koalas. They are usually fed three different species on any one day.
The seedlings for the plantations are grown to order from seed and raised by a local commercial nursery. During the wet season, the seedlings are closely planted together in rows. The soil preparation usually involves deep ripping to encourage root growth. After the first or second year of growth, the young trees are coppiced or cut to encourage multiple branches. These branches are then harvested and offered to the Koalas as food. Specially trained Gum Cutters collect the small branches every second day from the plantations and transport the food back to Hartley’s in an insulated container. The waiting gum leaf is stored in a cold room to maintain freshness.