Koalas are often killed by cars in towns where the speed limits are much lower as well as out of town on higher speed roads.
One issue for koalas coping with roads in an urban area, is that there is more happening to distract the koala and the person driving the car. The koala has to process a variety of stimuli such as electric lights, dogs barking, children noises, other machinery or traffic, humans and animals walking about and probably an extremely fragmented home range. A car approaching, even at only 60kph is probably just a part of the cacophony around them.
In these situations koalas often simply step onto the road directly in front of a car apparently without seeing it was there at all. This is not because of poor eyesight, but because they cannot separate and deal with all the stimuli. Think of it like very young children playing and how unsafe that is near the road because we know a young child is likely to become so focused on play they will not see a car approaching. In a similar fashion koalas just focus on where the tree they need to get to is, rather than what may be in between them and this destination.
Koalas are often seen walking along a road (rather than across), or they are reported to simply stop and sit in the middle of a road and watch a car approach and stop in front of them. Observing koalas, it would appear that their flight response is often very low as they don’t have a ‘sense of danger’. This is discussed in the article on dealing with cars in more detail.
When the flight response is elicited in a koala they commonly give a leap in the opposite direction or any random direction and begin to run without checking to see if they have chosen a safe direction. They will then attempt to run to anything that looks like a ‘tree’ structure. In other words, something they can climb. This makes sense because their brain tells them that getting up high is the safe response. Once a koala rushes up a structure in fright it tends to then determine to stay there until well after dark.
Hence we see koalas sitting high up telegraph poles, on fences, or even veranda posts seemingly unwilling to move. The more stressed that koala becomes, the less likely it is to come down.
This is the typical koala response:
- ignore everything
- react without thinking and get up high
- stay very still until late at night when all is very quiet
Roundabouts provide another level of complexity that is nearly impossible for a koala to cope with. All the koala sees is their food tree on the other side and they attempt to move towards it.
It is up to us as drivers to take more notice of wildlife on the roads, as the wildlife are not going to learn our rules.