Koalas have what some would consider the dream life: Eating and sleeping all day.
When they’re awake they eat leaves, which is their complete source of nourishment. But fun fact: Koalas don’t drink water. At least, they didn’t used to, except in extreme cases.
But thanks to climate change, our marsupial friends are being driven to drink more water than ever before. Their leaves are simply drying up.
That’s a phenomenon that’s led researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia to conduct a long-term study on the impact of water on koala populations, and its potential benefits. It’s even seen them set up special “drinking stations” just for koalas.
“Increasing hot and dry conditions will mean more droughts and heat waves affecting the koalas habitat,” Dr Valentina Mella, a postdoctoral researcher, said in a statement.
“It is believed that koalas are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they rely exclusively on trees not only to sleep on but also for eating, which together comprise of the bulk of their activities.”
Koalas have been very thirsty especially in Gunnedah the self-proclaimed “koala capital of the world” where their population was reduced by 25 per cent during a heat wave in 2009.
In the study, the Gunnedah koalas were observed via hidden surveillance cameras drinking from the artificial stations day and night, consuming around 10 minutes worth at a time, even during the winter months.
Semi-retired local farmer Robert Frend designed the water stations to aid researchers. They’re nicknamed the “Blinky Drinker,” in a nod to the cartoon koala, Blinky Bill.
“I’d always believed that koalas get all their moisture from the leaves,” Frend told Reuters.
“I mean, they have been living here since the 1970’s without any water supplementation. There might have been the odd dam around about but to see them in this area where there just isn’t any water was certainly a shock and an eye-opener.”
Koalas are listed as vulnerable around the country due to declining populations from loss of habitat, disease, dog attacks and vehicle collisions.
The study could help to challenge the belief that koalas don’t need water results are already showing they can benefit from water supplementation. The researchers say a previous study showed koalas will often reject leaves with less than 55 to 65 percent water content.
“This is a perfect example of how the understanding of animal behaviour can be applied to solve pressing problems,” Mella said. “We hope to use our findings to create a practical plan to manage Australia’s rural lands for this iconic species.”