x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

A koala cuddle that's easy to bear

Want to hold a koala? Head to Australia to a koala sanctuary such as Lone Pine.

One of the things on my bucket list is to hold a koala bear. But apart from heading to Australia, I have no idea how to make it happen. Are you even allowed to hold them? Are they dangerous? Please advise.

Compared to grappling with a grizzly, bear-hugging a black bear or even doing the polka with a polar bear, koalas are very user-friendly.

Maybe that's because they're not actually bears, and scientists have been fighting a mostly losing battle to discourage use of "koala bear" ever since the marsupials were dubbed that by taxonomically challenged British settlers in the 18th century. Their nearest relative is the wombat.

But whatever their genus, koalas are so undeniably cute that if they were discovered today, there would be suspicions that Disney or Pixar were heavily involved in their evolution. Instead, they're on your bucket list and those of many, many other people.

The bad news for koalas is that they have not coped well with modern Australia. After being hunted almost to extinction for their fur - cuteness cuts both ways - their numbers have since been affected by loss of habitat as the forests in which they live are felled for development. The reality is you're unlikely to see one in the wild.

But the good news for them and for you is that because the population is under threat, there are several koala sanctuaries around Australia that take in and rehabilitate koalas that have been displaced or injured.

And one of the ways many of these sanctuaries fund their work is by giving koalaphiles such as you the chance to hold one.

The first and the biggest of these sanctuaries is Lone Pine (www.koala.net; 00 617 3378 1366), located in parkland beside the river in Brisbane's south western suburbs. Established with two koalas in 1927, there are now around 130 here. After paying the AU$32 (Dh122) entry fee, you can get your photograph taken holding one for $6 (Dh23), which provides you with a high-res image taken by one of the sanctuary's photographers. So long as you pay that, you can take as many of your own photos as you like. For $12 (Dh46), they'll print the photo, too.

And, no, koalas aren't dangerous. Or even energetic, since they seem to spend almost all their time sleeping. And close up, they're even cuter than you would imagine.

While you're at Lone Pine, check out the other examples of Australia's weird and wonderful fauna like kangaroos, cassowaries, platypuses and emus.

Do you have travel questions or queries? E-mail them to us at travel@thenational.ae

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