ON THE MOVE: Almost a quarter of the koalas in northern NSW travel up to 16.6km in their search for new habitats.
ON THE MOVE: Almost a quarter of the koalas in northern NSW travel up to 16.6km in their search for new habitats.

It's official - this is why we love koalas so much

An SCU professor has studied the reason why we love koalas so much.

Adjunct professor of tourism at SCU, Kevin Markwell, a Larnook resident, studied our long love affair with the furry animal.

Prof Markwell said his academic report looked into the reasons why the koala has become one of the main icons of Australia overseas and a tourism drawcard.

"Koalas have a number of characteristics that we find resemble human babies," he said.

"They have a large round face, a large forehead, eyes that look directly back at you, a roundish body, and the ration of the arms and legs to the body fits with that of human babies as well.

"In terms of their behaviour, the can sit upright in the tree, and they also cry like babies as well.

"All these characteristics trigger a fairly positive emotional response in most people to koalas, they seem them almost as human babies, but on top of that, Australian white culture has constructed the koala in our literature as very easily humanised."

The professor mentioned Bunyip Bluegum, the character in Norman Lindsey's The Magic Pudding, and Blinky Bill as examples of such portrayal.

This reaction in humans may explain why koalas have been estimated to add one to three billion dollars a year on tourism revenue, Prof Markwell said.

"These are figures that have been estimated and published previously: the one billion dollar estimate was published in 1997, and the three billion dollar figure was published in 2014," he said.

"That is mostly driven by tourists that have come into Australia because they want to see koalas, it's part of the reason why they come here, and they buy koala merchandise, and also, incorporated in that figure, is the value of koala-based promotion overseas, or the use of the koala to promote Australia as a tourist attraction."

And while in NSW cuddling a koala at a zoo is illegal, as it is in most Australian states, it is possible to do so in Queensland.


Koala in the wild. Photo: Contributed.
Koala in the wild. Photo: Contributed.


The research examined the representation of koalas in natural history books, children's stories, postcards and tourism brochures.

Prof Markwell said the impact of climate change in koala food means more work is needed to protect it.

"Scientists have discovered that with warmer temperatures, eucalypt leaves, which is the only thing that koalas eat, are becoming less nutritious," he said.

"They also contain less moisture, so their only food is directly impacted by climate change."

The results of his study are available in the document Getting close to a national icon: an examination of the involvement of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) in Australian tourism.