Why are all those people standing in line in the hot sun at the zoo? Maybe the zoo just opened a koala exhibit. With the survival rate of native Australian koalas on the rise, more and more zoos around the world are adding a "koala house" or "koala exhibit" to their roster of special animals. And the people keep coming, whether merely to catch a glimpse of one or, if really lucky at zoos which permit it, to hold and be photographed with one.
Why are koalas among the most beloved of all animals? At times referred to as "koala bear," this Australian marsupial is not a bear at all. It is one of the few tailless mammals besides the apes and man. Yet apes are not often considered cuddly; indeed, they are often feared for being either too large or too naughty. This Australian real-life teddy bear, instead, is the best of all worlds: it is quiet, soft, neither too large nor too small (adults are usually 65 to 80 cm. long), and really cuddly! With its soft fur, leathery nose, rounded ears, and big eyes, most people seem to melt when near one. Its disposition is perfect for children and adults alike; it rarely makes a fuss, even when being held. (Try that with a baby tiger!) No wonder the lines to see, hold, or just touch the koalas are always among the longest at zoos.
One reason zoos today are able to keep koalas is the rise in the koala population in its native habitat, the eucalyptus forests of southeastern Australia. This nation, famous for its unique fauna and flora, is now allowing applications for the professional export of its protected species to overseas zoological gardens. Once hunted for its fur, this arboreal leaf-eater is today protected by stringent laws and is making a slow but steady comeback. Indeed, everything about the koala seems slow. It sleeps more than 12 hours a day (often much more), eats only choice leaves from eucalyptus trees (which can now be grown in many zoos to provide the more than one kilogram of leaves that each adult koala needs per day), and rarely if at all descends to the ground because it is such a slow runner (from wild Australian dogs called dingoes or from human hunters). As koalas are such a great draw for visitors, many zoos are trying to include them among their species.
Mother koalas give birth to babies only every other year. These young ones, as with other marsupials, spend a period of time inside the mother's "pouch" before venturing out into the world. In the case of the koala, this pouch is located below and in back of the mother; the small koalas can climb out directly from the pouch and onto the mother's back before learning to feed and fend for themselves. With all other marsupials, the pouch is located in the front, perhaps most famously with the kangaroo, where the "joey" can sometimes be seen popping its head out of its soft, warm pouch to survey the world about it safely.
Until the 1980s, zoologists feared that the koala might go the way of some other rare marsupials. Just as their eucalyptus habitat was being destroyed to make room for the ever-increasing suburban Australians, diseases peculiar to koalas began to take their toll. Combined with weak or non-existent laws against the hunting or poaching of this national treasure, the koala seemed doomed to extinction. Today, the koala has climbed back from the brink of extinction and is thriving again. Its main enemy today is forest fires. This slow-moving mammal cannot move quickly enough to escape the deadly fires which perennially ravage the land. With more land being set aside to protect this and other Australian species, however, the future of much of this special land's animal wealth seems secure.
All animals deserve man's protection, but some animals seem to attract the attention they need. The koala, one of the symbols of the great Down Under, is one of these. Holding a koala is fun, educational, and inspiring. If Australians could co-operate to save this special species, mankind should be able to prevent the extinction of all other animals, too.
今天动物园能够豢养无尾熊的原因之一是原产地——亦即澳洲东南部的尤加利树森林——的无尾熊数量增加了。该国以出产独特动物群和植物群闻名，如今开放专业申请将其保育类动物出口到海外的动物园去。这种以树为家的吃叶族曾经因其毛皮而遭猎捕，如今因受到严格法令的保护，其数量成长正慢慢地回稳。的确，无尾熊的一切似乎都很慢。它一天睡超过12小时（往往还更多），只选择吃尤加利树的叶子（许多动物园现在可以在园内种植尤加利树，以供应成年无尾熊一天超过1公斤以上的叶子需要量），而且它几乎很少下到地面上来，因为它跑得很慢（躲不过叫做 "dingo" 的澳洲野犬或猎人）。由于无尾熊对参观者有那么大的吸引力，许多动物园都设法要把它们列进他们的动物种类里面。