Koala Bear

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Is the Koala Bear unpalatable?

Many species which subsist on toxic or unpalatable diets absorb the chemicals so that they become toxic or unpalatable themselves to potential predators. It has been asserted (see Garcia and others) that koalas are also unpalatable, because the absorb the oil of the eucalyptus. I've found it difficult, however, to track down a solid account of what a koala tastes like.

On the Nourished magazine site, Sally Fallon reported (with references!) that the Australian "Aborigines did not hunt at night, but extracted nocturnal animals such as possum and koala bear - both prized foods - from their daytime resting places in various ingenious ways."

The Australian Natural Botanic Gardens has a list of references on Aboriginal foods and cooking.

Beth Gott of Monash University has a description of Melbourne seasons, stating that in "Deep Winter" people moved to the uplands to catch koalas, citing "Autumn, Winter, Pre-spring, True Spring, Early Summer and Late Summer" Glen Jameson (Victorian Naturalist 1996, Vol. 1 13 pp.26,67,123,269,313. 1997, Vol. 1 14, p.4S.

There is apparently a dreamtime myth that the Koala can be eaten but "his skin may not be removed or his bones broken until after he is cooked"; if the taboo is broken drought will come. Another version of the story states that "the blacks might eat the flesh of the bear, because it was good, but they might not skin it as they skinned common animals. (p. 267)" J.S. Ryan, The Bear and the Water: a study in mythological eytomology, Folklore 75 (1964), p. 260-8

Cassell's Dictionary of Slang includes "Gundaroo bullock n. [late 19C] (Aus.) cooked koala meat" (Gundar is a town in SE New South Wales). There is a poem of the this name by AB Banjo Paterson (1864-1941) that is probably the source. "An old man bear for breakfast is a treat in Gundaroo."

In 1840, the Polish explorer Count Paul Strzelecki survived a diasterous trek through the mountrain range named after him. "Starvation was only kept at bay by an indigenous member of the group hunting koalas, which the men cooked and ate." Haven't found their report on what it tasted like. In his book "The Count: A life of Sir Paul Strzelecki, KCMG Explorere and Scientist" (William Hienemann, Melbourne, 1954), Geoffrey Rawson quotes James Riley ( a member of the expedition) from a letter to his mother, "We saw only one animal through the country we passed, the size of a small dog which lives in trees -- a monkey or native bear. We got some by shooting, some by the native ["the Goulburn blackfellow Charlie Tarra"] climbing the trees. We ate them raw when we could not make a fire which was difficult because dry fuel was scarce." (p. 98).

From 'The Koala: Natural History, Conservation, and Management' by Kathrine Ann Handasyde.

H.M. Wheelwright, the 'old bushman' was part of the great influx of Europeans that arrived in Victoria during the gold rush years of the early 1850s. He had trained as a lawyer but apparently could not make a living out of either law or gold in the colonies, and ended up suppling the Melbourne market with game animals that he sho on the nearby Mornington Peinsula. He observed that koala flesh was edible -- 'not unlike that of the northern bear in taste' -- and that it was 'considered a delicacy by the blacks.' He also noted that koalas were 'extremely difficult to shoot on account of their thick hide.'

From the Encycopedia of Clinical Toxicology by Rossoff, entry on Eucalyptus, p. 444 "Rumors of no ill-effects when ingested by koala bears are false, as young shoots and leaves have killed many of them with prussic acid poisoning." (No reference is given).