One of the most exciting things we see on Great Ocean Road and Wildlife Journey tours is a koala climbing up or down a tree. They climb rather like we would, if we had the arm strength, the sharp claws and the grippy hands and feet that koalas have.
Koala climbing happens in different ways, depending on whether they are in a hurry, going up or going down.
Koala climbing down a tree:
Koalas climbing down a tree usually do so quadrupedally – that is one foot at a time, in the same way as they walk four-legged on the ground. They back down a tree, feet first, looking around for danger the whole time.
They seem to place a foot first, maintaining their hold with their hands, and only release their hands when both feet have a secure hold. They don’t look at where they place their feet – they seem to do it by feel.
Koalas tend to climb down a tree quite slowly. They are leaving a safe environment (high up a tree) and moving into an unsafe environment (the ground) so it makes sense that they do it slowly and with caution.
Koala climbing up a tree:
Koalas can climb up a tree in two ways. They can bound – leap like a frog, with the two arms reaching forward as one, and two legs pushing off.
They can move very quickly while bounding. Koalas usually bound when they are close to the ground – probably to get up the tree to safety as fast as possible.
I have never seen a koala bound down a tree. It would probably be quite difficult.
Koalas can also climb up a tree quadrupedally. This method is slower, and is normally used when higher up the tree.
Tree climbing uses a lot of energy, and koalas don’t have a lot of energy to waste. But they have no choice – most koalas change trees every day. This probably serves to protect the trees from damage, but could help in predator avoidance, or could be to protect the koala from overloading on toxins.
This is one of many reasons why koalas need large areas of healthy eucalyptus forest to survive.
The main way koalas change trees is by climbing down, walking along the ground, then climbing up another tree. Daily movements along the ground can vary from 10 metres to 600 metres.
It is also possible for a koala to jump between adjoining trees, provided the trees are less than 2 metres apart. But our research has shown that this is rare, and most daily movements include a walk along the ground.
Help koalas stay wild, by supporting Wild Koala Day on May 3. Wear a gum leaf on your lapel, or change your profile picture to a wild koala for the day.