Disclaimer: Since apparently I have angered Aussies who don’t understand SEO, I must point out that koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) are not bears thus calling them “koala bears” is incorrect. Koalas are part of the marsupial family. When writing this post, I made the intentional choice of using the term “koala bear” as that’s what many Americans commonly call them. And, yes, as someone with an extensive science background, I know that is incorrect. But, my incorrect term brought you to my website, right? Thanks for reading.
Next to the kangaroo, koala bears are probably the most recognized animal in Australia. They are cute, furry little animals that spend most of their days sleeping in trees. I mean, how cute is the little guy above?!
There are plenty of souvenirs that you can bring home from Australia, but the most iconic seems to be a picture of you holding a koala bear in your arms. Nothing screams Australia like a hug from a koala. But, should you hold a koala in Australia?
Holding a koala bear in Australia is illegal in all states except Queensland and South Australia. However, you can get close or even touch the back of a koala in many wildlife parks throughout the country. And if you’re lucky, you can even see them in the wild, which is way cooler than any wildlife park.
Just like riding an elephant in Asia or cheetah walks in Africa, holding a koala bear is without controversy. Animal abuse in the tourism world is real whether we want to admit it or not. Wildlife attractions account for close to 40% of all tourism worldwide. It’s one of the reasons I travel. Unfortunately, most tourists can’t tell if the attraction is good for the animals. Anywhere from two to four million people financially support attractions that are harmful to animals.
Riding an elephant is high on most travelers’ bucket list. I don’t blame them. It was on mine for a long time too until I read how elephants are trained to carry a human. Elephants aren’t meant to carry people. Most animal trainers have the best intentions, but elephants can kill people.
Tiger temples are another popular tourist activity where you can get your picture taken while stroking a 600-lb tiger. Most temples will sedate tigers into submission, but some go so far as removing their teeth, claws, or even cutting the tendons in their wrists. And then there were the 40 dead tiger cubs found in a freezer at the infamous Tiger Temple in Thailand in 2015.
So, should you hold a koala bear in Australia?
I asked myself that question many of times and even spent some serious time researching it online. But, there isn’t much hard evidence, either way, to determine if holding a koala is right or wrong. When the opportunity came to hold a koala at the Bungalow Bay Koala Village, I opted to participate.
Cuddling a koala is a highly regulated activity. Each koala bear is only allowed to “work” for 30 minutes a day and are never used two days in a row. While it may appear that you’re hugging a koala in a photo, in reality, you are standing in an awkward position like a tree while a handler places the koala on you for about 30 seconds. You’re not allowed to pat, squeeze, or hug the koala.
And in case you’re wondering, koala bears do smell a eucalyptus tree.
Holding a koala bear in Australia is a decision you need to make on your own. All the koalas that live in wildlife parks were either injured and unfit to return to the wild or born in captivity and thus can’t be released. They are used to humans. Obviously, you should never hold a wild koala bear.
There are plenty of places in Queensland and South Australia to hold a koala bear. For ethical reasons, I believe that it’s best to choose a facility that uses the admission cost of holding a koala as a donation to caring for the koala. The $18 fee for holding a koala at the Bungalow Bay Koala Village is used to care for the many koalas in the park. That was the reason that pushed me over the fence as I was still quite indecisive when I was purchasing my ticket.
For a list of wildlife parks that offer koala cuddle sessions, check out this list from Experience Oz.