Koalas are one of the most sought after sights for tourists visiting Australia.
With their smooth noses and fluffy ears, the ‘bears’ have become big drawcards.
Picture: Getty Images
And new research has helped uncover just why the tree dwelling creatures have such a hold over humans, finding it’s all in their likeness to babies.
Kevin Markwell, adjunct professor at Southern Cross University, looked at how koalas have been represented in everything from children’s books – such as Blinky Bill, to tourism brochures and natural history books.
He found that they’re often attributed human like qualities, known as anthropomorpism, in media, which has helped us view them with an emotive, romantic lens, rather than a scientific view, as we may with less endearing animals.
Especially given they share similar facial characteristics to human babies. Think their large foreheads and big eyes in the centre of their face, round head and soft bodies. And, they too make a crying sound.
Interestingly, as one of the few species to maintain these ‘juvenile’ features into adulthood, humans feel a natural empathy towards adult koalas, too.
Summarising his research for The Conversation, professor Markwell said by better understanding the relationship between humans and koalas, we may have a better chance at saving the species, which could potentially become extinct in NSW within 30 years.
“When humans see themselves in other animals, this can engender greater empathy and concern for the species. And the koala, with its human baby-like qualities can be readily anthropomorphised,” he said.
Professor Markwell added that this anthropmorphism may just help save them.
“Australians clearly care deeply for their koalas. But that sentiment must translate into collective political pressure if the species is to survive.”