In a remote, rural part of Australia, six hours by car from Sydney, summer temperatures are reaching 113 degrees as climate change makes heat waves more common. To help the local koala population survive both blistering temperatures and prolonged drought, researchers have been testing water fountains designed to sit in trees to make it easy for the creatures to reach.
Koalas usually get most of their water from eating leaves, not drinking water. But another effect of climate change is that the leaves they eat no longer contain enough water. The leaves–often eucalyptus–also can’t be eaten in huge quantities to try to access more moisture, because toxins inside them can make koalas sick. But if the animals become too dehydrated, they can’t survive.
The researchers tested some early prototypes, including a complicated platform in a tree. The koalas ignored it. But the animals did drink from a simple bowl. The researchers rigged up a gravity-fed system that automatically refills the bowl from a larger tank. Over the first 12 months of the study, koalas drank from the water stations on 400 visits–often ravenously.
The researchers say they have footage of koalas drinking water for up to 10 minutes straight, which is not normal by any means and tells us that the water supply is shrinking for koalas in Australia. If that’s the case, then we’re going to need a lot more koala drinking fountains for these wonderful furry creatures.