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Baby koala found in woman's duffel bag

Baby koala: Queensland police found a six-month old baby koala tucked in a woman's canvas bag. 

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A koala peeks out form the top of a bag at the Upper Mount Gravatt Police station in Brisbane, Australia, after it was found in the bag carried by a woman who was being arrested. Police said that when they asked the 50-year-old woman if she had anything to declare Sunday night, Nov. 6, 2016, she handed over a zipped canvas bag that she said contained a baby koala.

(Queensland Police via AP)

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Australian police have made an unusual find while searching the bag of a woman who was being arrested: a baby koala.

Queensland Police in Brisbane said that when they asked the 50-year-old woman if she had anything to declare Sunday night, she handed over a zipped canvas bag that she said contained a baby koala.

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The woman, who was arrested on "outstanding matters," said she found the male koala on Saturday night and had been caring for it since.

The woman was taken to a police station, while the koala — believed to be about 6 months old — was taken to a wildlife hospital in good health, though slightly dehydrated.

The baby koala weighs about 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) and has been named Alfred. The Queensland Police posted photos of the koala on Facebook. 

"He's been on fluids but is doing well and will shortly be going out to a carer," RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty said.

As marsupials, adult koalas give birth to their undeveloped young who then crawl into their mothers' pouch, where they stay for the first six to seven months of their lives. These young koalas, known as joeys, are fully weaned around a year old.

In 2012, the Australian government listed koala populations in Queensland and New South Wales as "Vulnerable," because of a 40 percent population decline in the former and a 33 percent decline in the latter. Populations in Victoria and South Australia appear to be abundant. But the Australia Koala Foundation argues that that there could be less than 80,000 koalas remaining today, possibly as few as 43,000.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that scientists recently figured out why the iconic Australian marsupials hug trees: The trunks help the koala bears keep cool, according to a new study.

"It can be a really useful way of getting rid of heat on a hot day," said study co-author Michael Kearney, an ecologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Given that koalas spend so much time in trees — the marsupials live in Australia's woodlands where they munch on leaves and sleep — nobody wondered why they hugged the trunks. People just thought they were taking a break on a more stable spot after eating leaves in the branches, Kearney said. As such, the discovery came as a surprise. Kearney and his student, doctoral candidate Natalie Briscoe, were trying to predict how the woodland creatures on French Island, near Melbourne, would regulate their body temperatures as the continent heats up due to climate change. The region is cool most of the year, but during the summer, the temperature routinely spikes above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), Kearney said.