Often I create a new critter-glass-drinking-straw when more and more of you start asking for a particular critter. However, that’s not exactly how I started making koalas. Instead, koala glass drinking straws came about as a result of a family tradition that is entirely unconnected with koalas, straws, glass art, or the environment.
Friday evening is the beginning of Shabbat, also known as the Jewish Sabbath, which starts just before sunset on Fridays and continues to just after sunset on Saturdays. Jewish days all begin and end at these times, rather than at midnight according to the regular calendar. Friday evening Shabbat dinner is our most important family time. We often invite extended family and friends, and sometimes even strangers, to join us. During dessert we go around the table and, one at a time, say four things - our name, a nickname, the highlight of the past week, and the thing we are most looking forward to in the coming week. Our oldest son Ezra (now 19) always explains this custom to newcomers and will sometimes throw in a fifth thing that is always something different. It could be a favourite song, a fondest memory from a family trip or, in this particular case, a favourite animal.
One of our guests that Shabbat supper was an old friend who said her favourite animal was the koala. Why? Because they’re the cutest! That’s what got me started on koalas. And what a natural choice for GlassSipper. Although I didn’t realize it when I founded the GlassSipper company back in 2014, “cute” is what defines GlassSipper reusable glass drinking straws. And the word that best defines koalas is, you guessed it, “cute”. GlassSippers and koalas are a match made in cute heaven.
What’s the “acute” angle that draws us to koalas? (Thanks to my younger son Adin for the acute angle pun.) What makes koalas so cute? I think it’s that koalas seem so soft and huggable, with their oversized fluffy ears, button eyes, oblong bulbus black nose, teddy bear face, and rolly-polly stuffy-sized body. Who can resist the sight of a young koala (called a joey) piggybacking on its mother? Or the image of a koala hugging a Eucalyptus tree?
Actually, koalas have a very practical reason for hugging Eucalyptus trees. Koalas are native to eastern Australia and spend virtually their entire lives hugging Eucalyptus trees, and subsisting entirely on Eucalyptus leaves. Eucalyptus leaves, however, have very limited nutritional value. Which means that koalas have very little energy for much of anything beyond eating and, consequently, spend most of their lives asleep. Around 18-20 hours a day to be exact. So koalas spent all that time hugging trees to keep from toppling down while asleep. The only time koalas leave their tree is to find another tree with more leaves to eat.
Koalas also hug the Eucalyptus tree to keep cool - a Eucalyptus tree trunk is on average 7 degrees cooler than the surrounding air. Koalas rarely even climb down for water since their digestive system extracts their water requirements directly from the Eucalyptus leaves themselves. In fact, koalas get their name from the fact that they rarely drink water. “Koala” means “no water” in the language of one Australian aboriginal tribe.
But you shouldn’t assume that just because koalas are cute that they are a bunch of wimps. When thieves tried to steal a koala from the Rockhampton Zoo in Queensland in 2006, the little fur-ball fought back so aggressively that the thieves ran off - and stole a more gentle full-sized crocodile instead! Zoo keeper Will Kemp reported that the koala, “scratched the shit out of them.”
Speaking of which, koalas are part of a select family of animals including elephants, pandas, and hippos, that eat their mother’s poop. Apart from being low in energy and nutritional value, Eucalyptus leaves are also extremely fibrous and highly toxic. Koalas need very specific bacteria in their intestines to digest the leaves. Joeys, however, are born with sterile intestines. By eating their mother’s poop, young koalas ingest the bacteria necessary to survive on Eucalyptus leaves. So I guess we know what to do if we’re ever stranded in the Australian outback with nothing to eat except Eucalyptus leaves. Just kidding - do not try this at home. By the way, joeys are unlikely to go hungry since adult koalas poop up to 150 times a day.
Once joeys have had their fill of poop at around 6 months of age they shift their diet to Eucalyptus leaves with a vengeance. I mean, after a diet of poop wouldn’t you? Your average 25 pound adult male koala can eat up to 2 pounds of Eucalyptus leaves a day. Ironically, however, although Eucalyptus leaves are the sole source of sustenance for adult koalas, these very same Eucalyptus leaves are also the cause of their demise. The abrasive leaves slowly grind away the koala’s teeth, and toothless old koalas eventually starve to death.
Just a few words about Save the Koala Month, and Save the Koala Day, before I sign off. After the beginning of the English settlement of Australia in 1878 with the arrival for the first 850 convicts, the English began hunting koalas for their pelts which they used as currency in the new colony. By the 1930s, when Australians killed koalas for sport and pelts, the hunters reduced koala numbers to the edge of extinction. So in the 1930s the Australian government declared koalas a “protected species.” Currently, koalas are considered “vulnerable” with somewhere between 43,000 and 80,000 remaining in the wild. With koalas no longer being hunted in significant numbers, and few natural predators (dingoes, pythons and large birds of prey), the koala’s greatest threat is deforestation, which has resulted in the loss of 80% of Australia’s forest. Each koala needs about 100 trees to survive, so as the forests disappear so too do the koalas. Save the Koala Month and Save the Koala Day is dedicated to raising awareness and protecting the koalas’ habitat and, thereby, protecting the koalas themselves.
So let’s dedicate some time during Save the Koala Month to think about what we can do to help preserve animal habitats in Australia, around the world, and in our own backyards. And let’s celebrate the oh-so-cute koala. In fact, I think I’m going to grab one of my GlassSipper koala reusable glass drinking straws and blend myself up a tall green smoothie. You should too! Just go easy on the Eucalyptus leaves.