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The Debunker: Are Koalas Cuddly?

by Ken Jennings

Are you sweltering in the August heat? Let’s spare a thought this month for our brothers and sisters of the Southern Hemisphere, just coming out of their chilly winter months. Travel experts say that late August is actually a beautiful time to visit Australia: airfares are still low, the beaches of the north are warm, and even Sydney usually gets up into the mid- to high 60s most days. (If they used Fahrenheit there, which they don’t.) Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings apparently has a trip to Australia on his mind this month: he’ll be here all August debunking mountains of marsupial misinformation for Woot!

Are Koalas Cuddly?

Sometimes being Woot’s official “Debunker” means being a buzzkill. Sure, koalas look like the softest, fluffiest little guys on God’s green earth. But here are the facts you should know before cuddling a koala, or considering cuddling a koala, or writing fanfic about cuddling a koala.

The Debunker

1. Koala fur looks fuzzy and snuggle-able. Looks can be deceiving; it’s actually thick and coarse, almost like wool.

2. Koalas have sharp teeth and claws, and know how to use them. (Or, to put it more kindly, they can be startled into self-defense behaviors if approached by someone who isn’t a trained keeper.) In 2006, four boneheads tried to steal a koala from a Queensland zoo so they could sell it for drug money. The koala proved so vicious that the thieves changed plans and dragged off a four-foot-long crocodile instead! And in 2014, a South Australian dog-walker had to pry a koala’s jaws off her ankle when it got spooked by her dogs. She limped the mile-plus home bleeding profusely, and eventually needed twelve stitches. “People should keep their distance if they spot a koala out in the wild,” newspaper accounts quoted experts.

3. More than half of Australia’s koala population is riddled with a painful and lethal form of chlamydia—and the infection can be transmitted to humans exposed to their urine, says the BBC.

4. Koala populations are in serious decline, largely due to habitat loss. The least you can do for a threatened wild species is leave it the hell alone. On the theory that koala-cuddling is probably stressful to the koala, the state of New South Wales banned koala-handling at animal parks in 1997.

Koalas can’t consent to your cuddling! They are too dumb! Please, please, just keep your big, meaty human hands off them. Is that too much to ask?

Quick Quiz: What brand of fabric softener introduced by Unilever in 1983 is repped by an extremely cute and cuddly stuffed bear?

Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at or on Twitter as @KenJennings.