KOALA, common name for an arboreal marsupial animal, Phascolarctos cinereus, the only member of the family Phascolarctidae. In appearance the animal somewhat resembles the toy teddy bear; in habits it somewhat resembles a sloth. The koala reaches a maximum length of about 76 cm (about 2.5 ft) and has a maximum life span of about 20 years. It has a large, round head with large, round, furry ears and a stout body covered with thick ashy-gray fur. The animal has a vestigial tail. Its legs are short; its feet are large, and each has five toes, two of which are opposable to the other three. Each toe bears a strong claw. The female bears one young at a time. The young koala is then kept in the marsupial pouch for about six months, after which time the female carries it upon her back until it is half grown.
Koalas are found only in eucalyptus forests of eastern Australia. The animals frequent high eucalyptus trees, feeding only on the leaves and flowers of certain species of eucalyptus. The animal is lethargic and often remains in the same tree for days. They are so sedentary that they will not run off, even when kept in unfenced eucalyptus regions, as they are in several Australian parks. The males are more active than the females and feed during the day; the females sleep all day and feed at night. Koalas sleep curled up on the limbs of trees, grasping the limbs with their feet. The animal does not relax its hold even when mortally wounded by gunfire. Koalas were once killed for their soft, thick fur, sold in the U.S. as wombat fur; they are now protected by laws in Australia.
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