The Koala Collection

The Australian Museum Koala collection currently comprises over 290 specimens dating from the late 1870s.

Koala asleep in tree

HOWARD HUGHES © Australian Museum

There are over 100 skins, 130 skulls and approximately 50 spirit preserved specimens in the collection which are available to researchers both within Australia and overseas. Many of the early specimens are ex captives from Zoos. More recently, specimens are received after they have been found dead on the road or euthenased due to severe injuries or disease.

One of the most important specimens is the “type” specimen of a Koala subspecies from Victoria, Phascolarctos cinereus victor, described in 1935 by the museum’s mammal curator at the time, Ellis Troughton. Other significant specimens in the collection include those donated in the 1950s from the now endangered population on Barrenjoey Peninsula in Sydney’s north.

The Koala collection has formed the basis of a number of recent research projects. DNA extracted from historical specimens from the late 1800s and early 1900s was used to examine the origins and evolution of retroviruses which increase Koala’s susceptibility to infections such as Chlamydia. Specimens used in the Koala genome sequencing project are also lodged in the collection.

The Australian Museum Mammal Collection

The Australian Museum Mammal collection was formed in the mid 1800s and has grown to become one of the most comprehensive collections of Australasian mammals in the world. It currently contains approximately 48,000 specimens from over 100 different countries.

The majority of specimens, approximately 24,000, are from Australia, with a further 10,000 from Papua New Guinea, 2, 700 from Indonesia and 2, 300 from the Solomon Islands. The two largest groups represented are Bats (16,500 specimens) and rodents (9,500). Specimens come from a range of sources including; early collectors and explorers, museum staff, donations from universities and the public, government environmental agencies, zoos and exchanges with other museums.

The mammal collection consists of study skins, mounted skins, skeletons, skulls, teeth, spirit preserved whole specimens and organs. There is also an extensive collection of over 10,000 frozen or ethanol preserved tissues samples from a diverse range of mammals from the Australian-Pacific region.

Many specimens in the collection have great historical as well as scientific value having formed the basis of the original description of a particular species when it was first named. There are over 570 of these specimens known as “type” specimens” in the collection including the only known specimens of a number of species. There are also more than 100 specimens of recently extinct species like the Lesser Bilby, Macrotis leucura and Thylacine, Thylacinus cynocephalus.


Ms Jen Cork , Online Producer
Last Updated: