Are there Koalas on Kangaroo Island?

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 05/02/2020

Reading time: 3 mins

When a place is named Kangaroo Island, it’s a pretty safe bet that there are kangaroos there, right? Right! But what other animals live on this island? Can you find Australia’s other iconic animal here?

There are approximately 100,000 koalas in Australia, with a majority of them living across the south-east coast of Australia. It might surprise you to learn however that koalas actually aren’t native to kangaroo island!

Can you see koalas there?

Even though koalas are not native to Kangaroo Island, you can certainly still see them here! Head into one of the animal sanctuaries along the island to see koalas in a natural habitat. Rangers will happily teach you all about these awesome creatures.

If you’re lucky you might also spot some wild koala in Flinders Chase National Park!

Wait, wild koala? Didn’t you just say they aren’t native? Yes, yes we did.

An introduced species

Koala were first introduced to Kangaroo Island in the 1920s from French Island in Victoria. Just 18 koalas were sent to the island in response to their declining population from the then popular fur trade.

The koalas were disease free and began to thrive in their new home. In fact, the thrived so much that by the 1990s there were at least 5,000 koalas on the island!

The local koalas population grew so quickly and to such a large size that they became a pest on the island and it was considered by the government to cull the population.

How many is too many?

You might be wondering how a cute, fluffy marsupial can become a pest. After all, they’re not like many other animals you might consider pests. However, they do have quite a negative impact on the environment around them.

Since their introduction to Kangaroo Island, koalas have caused the death of large populations of gum trees. This is usually due to over browsing. As the gum populations die off, they are no longer able to provide protection or habitat for many other, native, species.

Additionally, koalas are unable to self-regulate their population size. This means they will always continue to reproduce, regardless of their surroundings. So as they eat away at gum populations, reducing the available food, they keep creating more mouths to eat. As you have probably guessed, this is somewhat of a problem!

Surely it isn’t all bad?

Okay, you got us, there are certainly some positives to having these koalas on Kangaroo Island!

One of the biggest issues for mainland koala populations is disease. Diseased koalas have become so bad that mainland koalas are high risk for extinction. The Kangaroo Island population, however, is disease free. This allows them to act as a sort of insurance population for if anything was to happen to the mainland koalas.

With that in mind, the Kangaroo Island koalas could be the most important in Australia one day.

Kangaroo Island has plenty of wonderful native Australian wildlife for you to explore, even if they aren’t native to the island!

Related article: Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.