Koala Field Project: Meet Jackaroo

Posted at 12:13 pm December 7, 2006 by admin

 Jackaroo the koalaJackaroo (pictured) is a male koala that lives on St. Bees Island, Australia; this is where I traveled to for three weeks during the breeding season (see bloga Koala Field Project: Tracking Koalas and Koala Field Project: A Koala Chorus). I’ve been writing blog posts about smelly koalas (Male Koalas Smell Like Goats?!) and loud koalas (Motorcycles and Koalas), and now I can tell you about the koalas that I saw in the wild. I was hoping to see koalas and maybe hear a few bellows, but was I in for a surprise!

As we hiked around St. Bee’s radio tracking koalas, we started to focus on individuals. One of the koalas we started to track daily was a male named Jackaroo. He is an older male and has a radio collar on him. He also lives on the knoll, our focal point for koala tracking on the island. One of the goals of this trip was to see if I could record wild koala bellows and do playback experiments (explained later). At the San Diego Zoo, I record the koalas in the evenings, so we decided to head out one evening about 5 and see what I could record. That night, we tracked Jackaroo and found him in a tree with a female koala in a neighboring tree. Fred and Bill left me there with my recording equipment and went on to track another female (Xena and her daughter, Jen) that was nearby. Then it all started: Jackaroo let out a long bellow from up in his tree. Before I knew it, he was climbing down the tree and running over to some smaller trees that he proceeded to scent mark (four trees in all)!! I could not believe my eyes. I rarely see this at the San Diego Zoo, much less expected to see it in the wild!

After only a couple of minutes he was off and running again across the ground. By now I had radioed Bill and Fred to come back over to my location so that we could track Jackaroo and see what he was up to. When we caught up with him again (we didn’t want to go running after him because we were trying not to disturb him), he was up in another tree and wouldn’t you know it: he started to bellow again! Thankfully, I had my recorder handy and was able to record his bellows. Now, as if this wonderful night was not exciting enough for me, Jackaroo kept amazing us.

Just a few nights later we decided to attempt a playback experiment with Jackaroo and an unknown female. We would play a koala bellow through a speaker placed near Jackaroo and a female and then observe and record their reactions (if any) to the call. I had brought a CD of male and female bellows recorded at the San Diego Zoo to do just this. These would be novel calls to the koalas on the island. We set up, with Fred watching the female, Bill watching Jackaroo, and the playback speaker and me hidden from view about 16 feet (5 meters) away. First I played our control sound (something they would never normally hear: a gibbon call); the animals reacted just slightly to the sound, but it didn’t change their behavior long term. Ten minutes later, I played a bellow from Gonta, one of the males living at the San Diego Zoo, and WOW!! Jackaroo didn’t know what to do! He started climbing around the tree he was on and then just couldn’t contain himself—he let loose a loud bellow directed right at me. It was so intense that I was a little afraid he was going to come running through the brush to show me who was boss! Here’s his bellow:

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Jennifer Tobey is a research fellow in the San Diego Zoo’s Behavioral Biology Division.

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6 Responses to “Koala Field Project: Meet Jackaroo”

  1. Shirley Sykes says:

    Wow – that was quite an experience, Jennifer. I’m glad he didn’t decide to come after you, as I understand Koalas have rather ferocious claws and don’t mind using them! I’ll look forward to hearing about the results of your groups’ studies and the conclusions you may draw from them. Thanks to you, Fred, and Bill for your great blogs!

  2. Margaret says:

    Thanks, Jennifer. Sounds like the three of you had a very exciting and successful couple of days with Jackaroo. He sounds like quite a bellow fellow. It must be fun out in the wild tracking koalas. I have been fascinated by them since I was little because a Quantis arilines pilot friend of the family brought us small ” stuffed” koalas made with real koala hair. Mind you this was in the 1960s. Using the real thing now would be taboo. When I have visited koalas in a zoo they are always shy and out of view. It must have been really exhilarating for you to have him be so active so close to you. He obviously wasn’t shy about you being around as I am sure he could smell, see, sense your presence.

  3. Margaret says:

    P.S. Did you notice any physical differences in the faces, particularly the noses, of the wild animals versus those at the zoo? I observed that the picture of Jackaroo appears to have a larger proboscis than the picture which accompanies the Information about your study.

  4. Pamela G says:

    Thanks for posting the bellow, Jennifer! It makes the Koala sound quite large and fierce. Do the male koalas actually fight, or do they mostly just threaten each other? And do they make a different sound to attract females, or is the attraction mostly olfactory? Good luck with your fascinating study.

  5. Margaret says:

    Hey, Jennifer,

    Anymore luck tracking the sounds of the koalas? Any more sightings?

  6. Jennifer Tobey says:

    Thanks Margaret, Pamela, and Shirley for the great questions…keep them coming! The whole trip was a great success and we tracked quite a few koalas in the field and actually saw some possible breedings! We are still sorting through all the information and data, I am sure that means more blogs for you to read from Bill and I. And to answer at least one other question, the males do tend to have larger, more hooked shape noses than the females, it appears from this photo of Jackaroo that it may be larger than our males, but no, our San Diego Zoo animals have it too! And as far as your questions Pamela….I am working on finding the answers right now so stay tuned:) In the mean time I need to gear up, because our koala breeding season is just around the corner!