Koalas desperately drinking from water bottles has become one of the more enduring and heartfelt symbols of Australia’s catastrophic bushfire season. But have you ever wondered why they do something that’s seemingly so unnatural?
Obviously, a desperate thirst is a huge part of it. The worst drought in living memory in many parts of Australia has meant an animal that historically hasn’t needed to drink, can now no longer extract enough water from eucalyptus leaves to survive. Almost all wild koalas are currently in a permanent state of chronic dehydration making the further stress of a bushfire commonly fatal.
But a unique instinct is also playing a part. Being climbers, koalas will grab at anything put in front of them as a security response. If that happens to be a water bottle then they’re in luck. This ‘snatch and grab’ response also plays into another koala gift. Their sense of smell. By pulling an object closer, they’re able to fully assess what’s inside with their oversized nose with incredible accuracy. That assessment can take place in a few milliseconds meaning once water is detected, it triggers the desire to drink it down.
But one final word of warning. While it might look great on the ‘gram, offering a koala a drink from a bottle isn’t without risks. If water is forced down the throat of a stressed or weakened koala, it can easily end up in their lungs, causing a potentially deadly pneumonia. Firefighter Ali actually shows perfect technique here allowing the koala to drink at his own pace. The safest bet is actually to pour it into a bowl (if available) and let them drink the water from there...
If you’d like to donate to help all wildlife affected by bushfires, maybe consider @wildlifevictoria. WIRES (a NSW organisation) have thankfully been flooded with donations while some others have been comparatively left behind.