Do Koalas walk on the ground?

Did you know that most koalas walk on the ground every day? Ha ha, but you don’t see us doing it often do you… That’s because we’re not as dopey as we appear!  (and contrary to popular belief, we are not drunk or stoned on eucalyptus!!)

Most wild koalas will change trees by climbing to the ground and walking to another tree. But if we can, we wait until its safe to do so – which means no dogs yapping, no people yelling or running around.  Most ground movements happen at night, but we do sometimes walk in daylight hours too.

Which makes this photo even more amazing. This is my excellent mum Pat, taking a walk while the Echidna Walkabout tour group were standing there, fascinated. Show’s a bit of trust, eh?  Trust like that has to be earned, and this is 9 years worth of good behaviour on the part of Echidna Walkabout tour groups that led to this kind of trust.

Clancy's mum Pat taking a stroll
Clancy’s mum Pat taking a stroll

Walking on the ground is the most dangerous time for us – in a tree we’re pretty safe from predators, but on the ground we are nervous. In the old days dingoes might attack us, but these days its dogs we worry about – often domestic dogs.  People don’t realise that their dog can kill a koala easily, and sometimes without even meaning to.

A healthy koala will scoot up the nearest tree if there’s any sign of danger. We can move fast too – faster than you humans can run!

This is old man Tim Tam, who was the dominant male before I was born.  He spent a lot of time on the ground when he was in his twilight years.

Tim Tam, once dominant male, but an old man in this picture
Tim Tam, once dominant male, but an old man in this picture

When we walk from tree to tree we sometimes travel quite a distance! The longest single ground journey by a koala seen by the Echidna Walkabout team is 145metres!

We can be quite single-minded when we’re walking on the ground – we know exactly which tree we’re going to. We rarely deviate from our path, and don’t stop or hesitate very often. Its all planned well in advance.  Koalas have a mental map of their entire home range.  Every tree is known and valued for a particular purpose.  No human understands why we choose a certain tree each day, but we have our reasons.  There are many variables – temperature, wind, leaf composition, social considerations (including vocal communication)….

this is me, walking along the road
this is me, walking along the road

So what should you do if you see a koala on the ground, or coming down a tree? As I’ve shown in this article, we are nervous on the ground for lots of reasons, and can bolt for the nearest tree if alarmed.

So do what they do in this video:  Stay ABSOLUTELY still. Don’t move your feet at all. Keep quiet. If you have a dog with you, put him on a leash and hold him tight.  Watch the koala until they are almost out of sight before following, and if you do follow, do so quietly without breaking branches.  Only after the koala has climbed a tree should you approach more closely  AND REMEMBER THE KOALA RULES: never get any closer than 10 metres to a koala.


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