Be the Koala

by Tom Swift

When I was a kid, my favorite animal was the koala.

I had no actual experience with koalas. I have never been to Australia. Perhaps I saw one at the zoo. I have no memory of seeing one at the zoo.

I had a stuffed animal koala. I have memory of this but it is vague. I recall the stuffed animal koala being small. Maybe as small as a key-chain. Much smaller than an actual koala at any rate.

An average adult koala is about two and three-quarters feet tall. An average adult koala is about thirty-three pounds.

Cuddly and kind. I’m not sure why I was initially drawn to koalas but these are the first two words that come to mind when I think about why maybe I liked koalas as a kid.

I would have called them koala bears back then. A koala is not a bear. This is the case even if in their native Australia they are referred to as “native bears.”

A zoologist would tell you that koalas are completely unrelated to bears.

The koala is a bearlike marsupial.

Marsupials are mammals of an order whose members are born incompletely developed.

Koalas are born blind.

Adult koalas have small eyes. Especially as compared to the size of their heads. Koalas don’t have outstanding vision.

Those proportionally big heads do not house especially big brains. Koalas aren’t brilliant thinkers. You would not call a koala brainy.

On Sunday morning I looked up information about koalas. After all this time I still react when I see one in my mind’s eye.

On Sunday evening I turned to the Travel section of the newspaper and found a photograph of a koala. A reader had submitted the photograph from his travels. Specifically, the photograph was taken from a sanctuary for sick, injured, or orphaned koalas near Brisbane.

The thing that stands out about the koala in this photograph is the fur flaring from its ears. Koalas have bushy ears. These ears serve as insulation, keeping koalas cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They also keep the koala dry.

Koalas spend most of their time in trees. Even when it’s raining.

Koalas have claws suited for climbing trees. These claws also allow them to hold onto branches for long periods of time.

I’m no expert but the koala in the picture seems old.

In the wild, Koalas live an average of 13 to 18 years.

Koalas look wise. They seem calm. They are good listeners.

Koalas are not high-energy animals. They sleep up to 16 hours a day.

Koala energy is energy devoted to helping the ecosystem. Koalas play a critical role in the health of the whole environment.[1] Koalas eat eucalyptus leaves. Browsing eucalyptus leaves has an effect on solar energy levels hitting the earth. The wastes from such feeds have an effect on the terrestrial ecosystem. According to one researcher who has written a natural history of koalas, for millions of years koalas have played a critical role in creating and maintaining the upper eucalypt environment that is distinctively Australia.[2]

Koalas live a solitary life. They mate once a year. They don’t have lifelong partners.

Koalas aren’t going to provoke you. They aren’t going to try to eat you. Even if you are a rodent or a rabbit. If you mess with them, though, koalas can be assholes. Cut you up with those claws.

They are the original Edward Scissorhands.

I never saw that movie. Johnny Depp is a good actor but come on. Scissors as hands?

I recently watched a different type of video, one of those self-help jobs during which the woman on the video told of a trick. When you want to embody yourself, especially, say, at a particular moment when you notice you are not already doing so, think of your animal. That is, think of the animal you are. Immediately, the woman said, people will see a difference in you.

In the past, when asked to think of my spirit animal I have thought about lions. I have wanted to be a lion. Roar.

On my desk at work … I had forgotten this … the Monday after the Sunday in which I looked up facts about koalas and then saw the photograph in the newspaper I looked anew at a valentine I received last year that I kept and which sits near some photographs and knick-knacks. It’s one of those 2 x 2 Valentine’s Day cards. Same ones you would have given and received to all your classmates in grade school, saving only the one from the girl who made you feel warm inside when you talked to her. I kept this particular valentine for a different reason; it was given to me by one of my supervisors, who is one of the reasons why I work where I do. On the front of this valentine is one of those 3D tilt-it pictures, in which you see a different image and color depending from which angle you hold the valentine.

One image is green, one image is yellow, one image is blue. Right, left, up, down. That is four directions but who is counting as you move it this way at that?

One image is of a koala climbing a tree.

Another image is of mother koala with her joey.

The image that shows when the valentine sits still on my desk is of an adult koala staring back at me.


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[1] Koala numbers are a fraction of what they once were. Many fear the species is slipping away.

[2] “Koalas: A Retrospective,” by Glenna Albrecht, written in the year 2000 for a QLD Koala Conference, posted January 17, 2017 at