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Can a Koala Be a Pet?

i Koala image by HeikeKl from Fotolia.com

The adorable round-bodied tree-dweller from Down Under commonly called the koala bear isn't a bear at all. It's a marsupial whose large fluffy ears, fuzzy round head, big black nose and stumpy form make it look like a cuddly teddy bear. It’s no wonder you'd want to keep such a cutie as a pet but, in most cases, you can’t.

Illegal But Exceptions

The Australian Koala Foundation says it’s illegal to keep a koala as a pet anywhere in the world. Not even Australians can own one. But there are some exceptions. Authorized zoos can keep koalas, and occasionally scientists can keep them. Certain people have permission to temporarily keep sick or injured koalas or orphaned baby koalas, called joeys.

Australian Wildlife Permit

To be considered as a person who cares for sick or injured koalas or orphaned joeys, you need to get a permit from an Australian wildlife authority and live in Australia. Even then, you can’t keep a koala indefinitely as a pet. You would need to release the koala to the wild as soon as he’s well enough or old enough to care for himself.

Exporting Rules

You can’t just go somewhere to buy or adopt a koala. The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts of the Australian Government strictly oversees the transfer of koalas out of the country. Koalas generally need to be between 18 and 48 months to be exported, and they typically need to be bred in captivity as opposed to being wild. The recipient of an exported koala must demonstrate what the koala’s role will be. Being displayed in an approved zoo or being used in a breeding group are typical suitable reasons. The institution that receives an exported koala must have staff members who are competent in animal husbandry and veterinary care for koalas. The receiving institution must also provide enough fresh eucalyptus leaves to support a koala.

Population in Decline

Many urbanized areas in Australia were formerly koala habitats, so wild koalas and people do have some interaction in nature. It’s not ideal. Many koalas get a disease called chlamydia, not the same as the human form, from the stress of losing their habitat. Habitat decline and disease are taking a toll on wild koalas. People who live in former koala habitats, however, can help keep the area more koala-friendly. Keeping eucalyptus trees on the block and planting the types of trees koalas like are ways to help save these animals from extinction. If you plant trees, keep them away from power lines or main roads. Better places are along fences or near creeks or parks. Never try to pet a wild koala. Their sharp claws and teeth can injure you.