Category Archives: koala behaviour

Koala mother scratches her back while joey hangs on

Koala joeys ride on their mother’s back from about the age of 7 to 9 months.

Mara: Ooh, I feel an itch…

But what happens if mum wants to groom (scratch) her back?  Wooooo!  Watch out joey Pickle!!

Pickle: Oops! Incoming!!

OOh, that was close! Those big claws could do damage!

Mother koalas, like Mara here, are very aware of their tiny joey backpacks, and wouldn’t hurt them – after all, they’ve worked very hard to make them!  By the time a koala joey is on its mother’s back, its been in the pouch for 6 months, and then another month or two on her belly.   She has to eat more gum leaves and get lots of moisture to create milk to feed the youngster, and this is a big effort for an animal living on a low-energy diet.

Watch as another mother koala – Ngardang – looks out for her joey whilst climbing through an obstacle course of branches. 

But joeys like Pickle also have to look out for themselves.  By one year they have to be independent, so the quicker they learn, the better.

Pickle: Are you right now mum?

Mara and her 2018 joey Pickle live in the You Yangs, west of Melbourne and north of Geelong.  They are monitored by Echidna Walkabout’s Wild Koala Research Project – a project supported by travellers.

Read all about the lives of wild koalas Mara and Pickle here.

Great pics by Echidna Walkabout Wildlife Guide Michael Williams.



Michael Williams is also a professional wildlife photographer. See more of his work here:





How male koalas avoid fighting

If you search male koalas fighting you can find several YouTube videos and some sensational articles declaring that koalas fight often. But over 26 years of wild koala research we have only seen male koalas come to blows twice. So are koalas fighters or not?

We believe that male koalas avoid fighting by using a range of vocalisations, postures and behaviours. This finding is similar to that found in wild koala research at St Bees Island by University of Queensland (Ellis, W 2015) that found low rates of male-male interaction.

One of the ways that male koalas may avoid fights is discussed below.

Resident male koalas may give a range of warnings to trespassers to avoid a fight.  In two groups of observations in the You Yangs, Victoria, two different resident males approached closely to a trespasser male for a day, then left the area. We call this a close vicinity warning.  Then 5 days later and one month later respectively, when the trespasser had not left the area, the resident male moved into the tree with the trespasser.  This is a personal-space invasion warning.

One interaction resulted in some blows, but no full-blown koala fight was ever recorded between these males.

movements of 3 male koalas in the You Yangs

Following is an account of what happened and when.

We first met older male Bindjali in late 2015 in an area north west of resident male Clancy’s home range. He was seen only once that year, and three times in 2016 – once in Clancy’s home range, and twice in dominant male Winberry’s territory. He behaved like an old male who had lost his home range to another, and was living on the fringes.

Early in March 2017 Bindjali appeared and stayed in Clancy and Winberry’s home areas, causing some tension.

Bindjali and Clancy

On 11 and 12 March Bindjali was found in Clancy’s home range.

On 13 March Clancy was found 80 metres from Bindjali’s last location.

male koala movements to avoid fighting

We read this as a close vicinity warning by resident male Clancy. As koalas can smell each other very easily, a close approach like this would have been noticed by Bindjali.

The warning seemed to work, because next time Bindjali was found he was 450m away to the east – in Winberry’s home range. He didn’t stay there long – maybe because Winberry was only 250m away – and by 18 March he was back in Clancy’s home range.

But this time there was no close vicinity warning – it was time to step up the threat level. Clancy was found in the same tree as him, giving Bindjali a personal-space invasion warning.

how koalas avoid fights

male koala confident posture

We watched the two males for some time. Clancy was relaxed, resting stretched out, and looking directly at Bindjali frequently. Bindjali was submissive, keeping his body low to the branch, moving slowly and furtively as if trying to avoid attracting attention.

do male koalas fight often


The following day, 19 March, Bindjali had moved just 30m to the north and Clancy was nowhere to be found. That struck us as odd – wouldn’t Bindjali try to get as far away as possible? Obviously we don’t know everything that transpires between male koalas.

Then Bindjali disappeared from the area and was not seen again until 1 April, in Winberry’s home range. Clancy was seen on 26 March, back where Bindjali had been, then stayed around the vicinity, as if he was just checking that the trespasser had finally moved on.

We never saw Bindjali in Clancy’s home range again.

Bindjali and Winberry

Bindjali appeared in Winberry’s home range on 1 April. At this time Winberry was 500m away – at the other end of his home range. But it didn’t take him long to figure out what Bindjali was up to.

On 2 April Winberry had moved directly towards Bindjali and was within 280m of him, and when next found on 14 April Winberry was right in his face – only 60m from Bindjali’s location on 9 April.

This was Winberry’s close vicinity warning.

map of male koala interactions movements

Bindjali stayed around that area. He was seen again on 20 April and 23 April in Winberry’s home range.

On 3 May Bindjali was found dangerously far within Winberry’s home range. By then Winberry must have had enough and had to deliver a personal-space invasion warning. On 13 May Winberry and Bindjali were found in the same tree.

male koalas fighting

This encounter was even more tense than the one with Clancy. Wildlife Guide Brett Howell heard Bindjali vocalising from some distance away. Listen:

Brett and his tour group followed the sound and came across Winberry and Bindjali quite close in the same tree. Winberry was higher, Bindjali was hanging on to a thin branch upside down. As they watched, Winberry struck at Bindjali several times with his right hand. Bindjali stayed where he was, yowling and crying.

Watch Winberry deliver his personal-space invasion warning to Bindjali:

male koala during a fight

After this the two male koalas separated – Bindjali moved down lower, unhindered by Winberry. When the observers left they had settled into a position about 2 metres apart. The koala fight seemed to have ended, for the time being.

koala fight ended

We don’t know if we saw the start, the end or just part of the fight. It is noticeable in the video that Winberry doesn’t seem to be really trying to damage Bindjali. Was he mostly sending a message? If the message was not taken, would it have escalated into a serious male koala fight?

On 15 May Bindjali had moved 80m to the north, still in Winberry’s home range, and was found again near there on 17 May. But he has never been seen again.


Fighting between koala males is relatively rare, and little studied. No doubt koalas have found many complex ways to avoid the dangers and potential injury of physical combat. This is just two observed interactions that we found interesting in their similarity. We doubt that this is the sum total of fight avoidance behaviour and much more needs to be learned.

So what’s with all those YouTube videos of male koalas fighting?  Either there’s so many iPhones and video cameras around that even rare behaviour is getting recorded more often, or koalas in populations that are stressed, overabundant or with a shortage of food trees, fight more.  We don’t know how our modification of their environment is affecting their social behaviour.

Do you have a video or experience of male koalas fighting? We’d love to hear about it.

Note on methods:

This data was all collected by non-intrusive observation in the You Yangs by Koala Researchers and Wildlife Guides of Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours and Koala Clancy Foundation. Koalas are identified from a distance by their nose patterns and never touched. All research is paid for by social enterprise Echidna Walkabout, and is undertaken with permission of Parks Victoria.

The You Yangs koala population is located in dry open woodland dominated by River Red Gum and Yellow Gum (respectively Eucalyptus camaldulensis and E. leucoxylon). Total koala population is estimated to be around 105 individuals, and is declining at rates of around 46% every 10 years. The population does not exhibit chlamydia at high rates (only two suspected cases in 12 years), birth rates are around 10-15% per year (we record 4 to 6 joeys per year in our research population of +/-38 individuals) and death rates about 7%. Home ranges are large, (males: 40 to 110 hectares; females 20 to 30 ha) which is not surprising for a dry woodland environment.

Read more about our Wild Koala Research Project here.


Ellis W, FitzGibbon S, Pye G, Whipple B, Barth B, Johnston S, et al. (2015) The Role of Bioacoustic Signals in Koala Sexual Selection: Insights from Seasonal Patterns of Associations Revealed with GPS-Proximity Units. PLoS ONE 10(7): e0130657.

BBC Earth article:

Male koala walking and scent-marking trees

Male koalas have home ranges: an area of land that they live in. Depending on their status, they may or may not tolerate other males using part of all of their home range. Dominant males in the You Yangs do not seem to tolerate other males in their home range. They are possibly territorial, which means they defend a long-term home range from other males. (1)

Read about Koala Home Ranges here.

Male koalas will mark their home range with their scent. It is a way of communicating with other koalas. It could be a calling card for females – to attract them – or for other males – to discourage them, or even to say they are willing to fight for this patch.

The following photographs show Lluvia: a 3 year old young, sub-dominant male during breeding season, walking through an area and scent-marking a tree.

The area Lluvia is walking is a home range recently vacated by a dominant male. Lluvia stayed in this area for several months. Two other adult males – a mature male named Zack, and an older male named Cruiz – were also seen in this area over the same months, and sometimes on the same day as Lluvia.


Lluvia approaches a River Red Gum tree.


He stops and sniffs at the base of the tree.


He has a look around. You can see his scent gland – the dark stain in the middle of his chest.


He approaches the tree.


Then prepares to rub his scent gland against it.


That done, he moves on to the next tree.

Koala scent marking becomes more frequent in the breeding season (2), and males are more likely to scent-mark a tree that has been occupied by another male. So Lluvia may have been marking a tree recently used by Zack or Cruiz.

Read more about Koala Scent Glands here, and about Koala Communication by Scent here.



1. There is some debate over whether koalas are territorial or not. Territoriality is defined as “the sociographical area that an animal of a particular species consistently defends against conspecifics.” In the You Yangs, some males have very large, long-term home ranges with almost no overlap by the neighbouring males. We consider these to be dominant males. It is possible that these dominant males do defend their home range from other males in some way.   Also in the You Yangs, many males have home ranges with a large degree of overlap with other males – we consider these sub-dominant males, and these are not territorial.

2. (1) Ellis, WAH, Melzer A, Bercovitch F “Spatiotemporal dynamics of habitat use by koalas: the checkerboard model” Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2009) 63: 1181-1188

Koalas do drink - wet koala in the rain

Do Koalas drink?

Koalas don’t drink, says the legend. But they do!

True, koalas drink in a slightly different way to most animals.

Koalas are arboreal – which means they live in trees. They do almost everything high in a tree. They mate, give birth, eat, urinate, defecate …. AND  drink in a tree.

When it rains, koalas do drink by licking the raindrops as they run down the trunks of gum-trees. Watch:

This sort of koala drinking works best on smooth-barked eucalyptus trees, for example River Red Gums, Yellow Gums and Blue Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis, E. leucoxylon & E. globulus/pseudoglobulus). It is possible that koalas move to these types of trees to drink when they expect rain.

Koala drinking also works best on vertical large branches and trunks, so that the rain pools and runs down into their mouths.

wild koala drinking by licking rain

We have watched koalas rush to get into a good position for drinking.

They also get more moisture from gum-leaves if they eat while its raining. We have seen that koalas are more likely to start feeding if its raining.

Their method of drinking relies on rain. Rain needs to be fairly consistent. Unfortunately in many parts of Australia rainfall is less consistent – some areas, like the You Yangs where these videos are taken, are experiencing record low rainfall, other regions are having floods.  Reliable rainfall is yet another casualty of climate change in Australia.

koala licking rain off tree

Koalas are thirsty. And not just in summer.

Research conducted by the University of Sydney has found that koalas will drink from water troughs mounted in trees, all year round.

Support Wild Koala Day on May 3. Share a koala post on social media. Tag #wildkoaladay. Call a politician. Show our governments that its time for them to act on climate change.

Koala wet from rain | Koalas do drink



Which male will be king koala

Vote for the next King Koala on Wild Koala Day

In the wild, when one door closes, another opens.

In The Bush when an animal dies, it’s not all tragedy. When a dominant male koala dies, a young male gets a chance to be the top koala.

So when my dad Anzac died late in 2017 after a long and successful life, he left an open door.

In fact, he left two open doors: when Anzac first came to power he took over the home ranges of two previous dominant males.

Now three males are bluffing, posturing and even fighting for his title. Here they are, and if you go to my facebook page you can vote for your favourite.

Koala Clancy wild koala day event
Click here to vote


wild koala day vote for next king koala

Zack is the perfect age to take over from Anzac. He is about 8 years old – same age as me – and that’s when a male has the perfect blend of strength and experience.

What’s more, Zack has been living beside Anzac since 2013. He knows Anzac’s style. He could take over smoothly, without upsetting the ladies.

Zack is also very wily. For five years he has lived on the edge, close to Anzac, but just out of reach. Anzac could have hurt him badly, but Zack never let him.

Does Zack deserve the title of Koala King the most? Vote for him here.

Watch his video:


Next king koala You Yangs Lluvia

Lluvia is the young fellow who wants to take over my father’s old home range.

He’s only 3 years old, and most dominant males are much older when they first take the crown. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. My dad Anzac was only 4 when he became the king. Anzac is probably Lluvia’s dad too.

He is relaxed, brave and confident – all good characteristics. He is also persistent, which might prove to be the most important asset of all.

If you think Lluvia can do it, vote for him by liking this video.


wild koala day king koala

Cruiz is almost as old as Anzac, so this is his last chance at being dominant male of the best territory in the You Yangs.

He wants it, bad. Since 2008 Cruiz has been living on Anzac’s fringe, in a home range quite inferior to Anzac’s. He has watched his women go to Anzac in breeding season, time and time again. It has almost driven him crazy.

Cruiz is big, experienced and the survivor of many fights. He has nothing to lose.

If you think Cruiz should have a taste of success before his retirement, vote for him here.

Watch and like his video:

Wild Koala Day is coming up on May 3. Its important for you humans to protect us in the wild. The wild is where the most interesting koala behaviour happens.

Read more about why Humans need Koalas here. 

About Koala Scent Glands

Male koalas have a scent gland in the middle of their chest.  The gland produces a strong-smelling oily substance that can be rubbed against trees to act as a marker for other koalas.

The scent gland appears to change over the koala’s life, and over the course of a year.

Here are some pictures we’ve collected over many years.


Both of these koalas were dominant males when these pictures were taken.  We don’t know if that makes any difference to the condition of their scent gland, but these pictures would certainly show the scent gland of a male in his prime.


Anzac – dominant male for many years.  His scent gland shows an interesting central crease in both the pic above in early breeding season, and below in mid breeding season.


The same male in April, after breeding season had ended.  His scent gland is appearing more furry and less prominent.

Read more about Koala Anzac here.


The next pictures are of Winberry, who was also a dominant male in another part of the You Yangs for many years.  The pic was taken in late September, so technically non-breeding, but very close to breeding season.

Winberry has no central crease in his scent gland.


Winberry again, the year before in April.  In both pics the scent gland area appears quite dry.


Interestingly, both examples of dominant males show a dry, clean scent gland – both in and out of breeding season.  I can’t find any pictures of dominant males with sticky oily scent glands.  Perhaps I’ve missed them, or perhaps they have no need to over-produce discharge?


Below Benbo, an older mature male in early breeding season showing a slightly oily-looking scent gland.


Below Gurren, middle of breeding season. His scent gland appears very oily sticky.  As far as we can tell, Gurren was a sub-dominant male at this time.



Koala Clancy is the one male we’ve monitored from pouch emergence to dominant male status.

Clancy below as an 18 month old juvenile.  His scent gland is there, but small. The pic was taken in the middle of breeding season, but the season might not make any difference to the scent gland of a juvenile.


Clancy below as a four year old, in non-breeding season.  The scent gland is still quite small, but seems to be producing some oily discharge.


Clancy as a 7 year old, in the non-breeding season just before he became dominant male. His scent gland is much larger than in the 4 year old pic above, but furred over and not appearing too oily.

Read more about Koala Clancy here.



It is hard to draw conclusions from the above photographs, except that scent glands in younger males are smaller and seem to grow as they approach maturity.  Scent glands do appear dry at times, and oily at other times – but when and why is currently impossible for me to conclude.

Scent glands also appear to have distinctive shapes – Anzac’s was long, thin with a central crease; Winberry’s is more oval; Clancy’s is keyhole-shaped with a bulge below.



Echidna Walkabout’s Wildlife Guides and Koala Researchers find these wild koalas and take photographs and observations of them +/-310 days per year.

The koalas that have been given an age have been monitored since pouch emergence (Clancy) or for many years (Anzac – since 2007 & Winberry – since 2009), which gives us a reliable estimate of their age.

To support our research, please consider joining a 3 day Great Ocean Road, 1 day Sunset Koalas & Kangaroos or 1 day Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD tour next time you are in Melbourne.  Over 50% of our profits are invested in this koala research.  Learn more about Echidna Walkabout’s Wild Koala Research here.

young male koala looking nervous

It’s tough being a young male koala

You have no place to call your own. Everyone hates you.

When I was a baby everything was beautiful. My mother, Pat, loved me unconditionally. For the first six months of my life I was warm and safe in her pouch. I could feel her heartbeat always.


The next phase was lovely too – I came out of the pouch and spent all my time on mum’s tummy. If it was cold, she would wrap her soft arms around me. When I was feeling adventurous I would climb on her back and we’d go travelling.


In time I became curious and started to climb up the tree on my own. Then, at about one year old, I even climbed into a different tree.


Mum smiled and encouraged me to be brave. If only I knew how brave I would have to be.

I was lucky. Mum (and Dad to some degree) let me stay until I was two years old. Most other kids have to leave when they’re only one year old.

Independence is terrifying. Suddenly you are on your own, in unfamiliar territory, and no-one wants you. Every bit of decent habitat is owned by a male scarier than your Dad.

If the owner finds you, he will hurt you.

You learn to be alert, quiet and very sneaky. But we have to change trees every day – read why.  Watch: 

Young male koalas live on the fringes for their first few years, trying to eat well so they can become big and strong. But the good trees are owned by dominant males, so its hard to grow.

I made it through that difficult time, and I’m now one of the dominant males that the young fellas are scared of. I’m one of the lucky ones.

If you humans could plant more trees in good habitat – by that I mean in river valleys, lowlands, and on private farmland – it would make it easier for the young guys!  Read more about that here. 

Koala Clancy Foundation runs tree planting days from June to August every year. If you can put together a group of 10 people you can do it whatever day you wish – or you can come on a public Koala Conservation Day for Locals every second Sunday.  Please come!


Koala Conservation Days for businesses

Public Koala Conservation Days for Locals

Koala King of You Yangs

A new King of the You Yangs is coming!

Winberry has been dominant male of Branding Yard, You Yangs for a very long time. He was present in his home area back in 2009. He’s been dominant male there since at least 2010.

I moved into the area as a 2 year old back in 2012, and the first koala I met was Winberry. He told me to ‘bugger off’ in no uncertain terms. I was lucky to get away with my life.

But now the time has come for the old king to retire, and for a new King – myself – to take over the reins.

Check out this map of our latest movements. It shows how I have been making my move into Winberry’s home range.

The red area is my normal home range.  The yellow is Winberry’s normal territory – see how huge it is?  That’s what being a dominant male gets you – lots of property to impress the ladies!


It also shows how Winberry has been exploring new territory – he’s scared by me, and he knows he will need a new home soon.  He looks a bit  sad, don’t you think: 

dominant male koala
Wish me luck!

Note from researchers: in the You Yangs sub-dominant males like Clancy do not trespass into the dominant male’s home area. They will trespass on other sub-dominant males, but not on the dominant male – its how we decide who is dominant male. Young males do at times, but that seems to be desperation or a mistake, and they quickly get out.

This move by Clancy looks like a bid for dominant male status. Only time will tell.


Koala Breeding Season part 2: The Ladies Take Action.

After hearing male koalas sing female koalas move towards the male of their choice for breeding.

Sometime from November to March, female koalas start to feel the urge to mate. They have heard us male koalas singing since the start of October – read Koala Breeding Season Part 1: Koala Song – and at a time of their choosing they go to the male they want.

Breeding season is the main time my researchers see a female koala move out of her home range. This movement can be substantial (over 1000metres) and is usually brief and not repeated. Female koalas can change their home range from time to time, but these movements are usually slight, repeated often and lead to a long-term boundary shift.

Contrary to popular belief that male koalas dominate mating, some female koalas in the You Yangs appear to instigate mating. They move out of their home range and into a male’s home range.

After that the mating ritual begins. More about that next time.

Here’s one example.

This is Misty, a 6 year old* female living wild in the You Yangs.


Misty has had two joeys in the time we’ve known her: male Lluvia in February 2015 and female Cuddles, born February 2016. She didn’t have a joey in 2017.


Read about Misty’s dramatic first appearance, subsequent rescue and first joey here.

She has been known to Echidna Walkabout/Koala Clancy Foundation Researchers since January 2014. For that whole time she has been seen within this 27 hectare area.  Read about Misty here. 


Then suddenly on 15 October 2017 Misty is found 650m to the east, in the home range of male Bungaleenee.

If mating was her purpose, and she was successful, we will see a joey in Spring 2018.

Science doesn’t yet know what triggers a female to seek a mate. Koalas are induced ovulators, which means the egg is released after the female mates. So how does she know when its the right time?

We’ll just have to ask her!

Stay tuned with all the latest educational wild koala info by following me on Facebook or Instagram!

* Misty’s age is estimated.

All the information above is based on long-term, non-intrusive wild koala monitoring in the You Yangs Regional Park, Victoria by Koala Researchers employed by Echidna Walkabout & the Koala Clancy Foundation.  Read more here:

Koala interacting with Cockatoos

This amazing footage shows rare interaction between a wild koala and a group of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos. The video was filmed in the You Yangs, near Melbourne Australia. The koala is a known individual, Pat, part of a long-running Wild Koala Research Project run by Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours and the Koala Clancy Foundation.

What’s happening here? Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are gregarious, vocal and territorial. They will defend their habitat using vocalisations and swooping against invaders, including humans – so its not surprising that they occasionally target large arboreal mammals like koalas.

What’s odd about this is that Koala Pat was in a living tree in her home range at the time of this interaction. If these cockatoos are resident, they would encounter her often. But we know this doesn’t happen often, as we have researchers in this location 300 days a year and it is very rare to see anything like this.

So what caused this interaction? It was filmed at the very end of summer, so not peak breeding season for the cockatoos, and this tree is quite young and probably would not have formed the hollows that cockatoos require for nesting.

We don’t know what Pat did before this interaction – she may have climbed into the tree that the cockatoos were feeding in. She may have moved around in an unusual way. Or the cockatoos may have been teaching their chicks how to deal with intruders, and Pat was the unfortunate target.  We do wonder – are there some trees in a koala’s home range that they don’t use because they are ‘owned’ by another species?

Koalas would learn how to deal with interactions with other species. You can see she stays quite still, doesn’t make eye contact, and waves her hand at them when they get too close.

A wild koala’s life is full of decisions – which tree to eat, where to sit on a hot/cold/windy/rainy day, how to get from place to place, how to socialise or avoid contact with other koalas, possibly how to avoid interactions like these. While this interaction may have been stressful for Koala Pat, it is part of the richness of her wild life. Learn more about Koala Pat and her life here: 


Watch another amazing video of Koala Pat walking through a group of tourists.