Here’s a little-known fact: Koalas walk on the ground every day.
But most Aussies, and most travellers, never see them do it.
Koalas are at their most vulnerable when they are walking on the ground. So they are extra careful.
Before deciding to change trees, a koala watches and listens for some time. We can often tell when a koala is about to come down. They will look one way, then put their head down and close their eyes. A few minutes later they’ll look up again, a different direction. All this time their ears and nose are working overtime, processing information about who is in the Bush and where.
After ten to thirty minutes, they will descend the tree. As they come down they are still listening and watching.
Once on the ground koalas are direct, determined, and surprisingly fast. I think they’ve made up their mind which tree they are going to, and get there by a straight line approach if possible.
Watch 15 year old grandmother koala Pat take a walk across a road in the You Yangs:
People are often surprised at how fast koalas can walk. They do look a bit funny on the ground – their arms/front legs stride out long and fast, and their back legs seem to step higher than needed. Koalas are very powerful in the arms and upper body, and it shows when they walk on the ground.
Koalas are in danger when they are walking on the ground – that’s where a dog (or, in the old days, a dingo) could get them. These days they have to add vehicles and cattle to the list of things that could hurt them.
So if you are lucky enough to see a koala walking on the ground, don’t frighten them or interfere with their progress. Just stand back at least 10 metres away, and watch quietly. If they are on a road and a vehicle is coming, you are best to (safely) flag down the vehicle. A healthy, uninjured koala will usually move off the road quickly.