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What’s all this about Southern koalas in the UK?

Last October, a group of pioneering Southern koalas and two Southern Hairy-Nose wombats made the long journey from Cleland Wildlife Park in the Adelaide Hills to join our South Australian expat community in the UK. After six months of settling in, we’re pleased to announce that Koala Creek at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire is officially open to the public.

It has been a long journey for everyone involved – the transfer of these precious and sensitive animals has been three years in the making. We are thrilled to have these South Australian ambassadors in our British backyard, so allow us to introduce Dennis, Violet, Maize and Coorong by answering some of the most frequently asked questions, starting with ‘so, why are they here?’

 

Why were koalas brought to the UK?

The Government of South Australia is committed to ensuring the future of this vulnerable and beautiful species. Four years ago, The International Koala Centre of Excellence (IKCE) was formed to support and direct ground-breaking research into the management and conservation of this fragile species. Best practice science is needed to understand the koala to ensure they continue to live safely and thrive in the wild. IKCE’s partnerships with Longleat Safari Park allows koala ambassadors to be showcased in the very best way possible. Bringing these Southern koalas to Europe will help share the story of koala with the world which allows IKCE to solve the major issues facing the species.

Are koalas at risk of extinction?

In some places, yes. In the eastern states of Australia, koalas are listed as vulnerable to extinction under the Australian Government’s central piece of environmental legislation. There are higher numbers of koalas across southern Australia. However, greater numbers don’t necessarily mean fewer risks to the species. High densities of koalas in some area causes destruction of habitat and this puts koalas, and other species relying on the same habitat, at risk.

What are some of the other risks to koalas?

Key threats to koalas include disease, climate change, loss of habitat, and overcrowding bringing the risk of starvation. Koalas have many natural predators in their northern range, including dingoes, eagles, owls and snakes.  There are also threats as koalas increasingly move into urban areas, where they are struck by cars crossing roads, attacked by dogs, and can fall into swimming pools.

How did the koalas get here?

In short – in the comfort and safety of Singapore Airlines. The flight from Adelaide to London is the furthest Southern Koalas have ever flown. It was imperative that the selected koalas undertook vigorous tests and training to prepare them for the journey. Koalas are highly sensitive animals, stress can be detrimental to their health so the koalas needed months of crate-training to ensure they would be comfortable on route. In addition to spending time in their crates, the koala keepers played airplane noises and drove the crates around in trucks to ensure they were accustomed to the noises and movement they would feel in the air.

How were the koalas selected?

The koalas had to be between 2 and 4 years of age to be mature enough to take on the stress of long-haul travel but young enough to breed once settled in the UK. There needed to be a mix of male and female koalas and they had to score certain numbers on various tests to prove they showed no signs of illness or disease. Finally, they had to show no signs of stress, the pre-selected koalas that did not seem comfortable during their crate training they were taken out of the programme.

Isn’t it too cold in the UK for the koalas?

The koalas at Longleat are Southern Koalas which are predominately found in Victoria and South Australia where the winter months are similar to Britain’s. Koalas are more comfortable in cooler weather than warm and have a higher tolerance for cold than for hot. Koala Creek is a large open enclosure with both indoor and outdoor areas for the koalas to find their most comfortable perch.

Is there anywhere else I can see koalas?

There are Northern Koalas in several parts of the world including Edinburgh zoo. With the exception of Ocean Park in Hong Kong, Longleat Safari Park is currently the only place in the world you can see Southern Koalas outside of Australia.

What is the difference between a Northern and Southern koala?

Southern koalas are nearly twice the size of Northern koalas, with thicker and darker grey-brown fur a likely response to the cooler climates in Victoria and South Australia. Male koalas are larger than female koalas, and a female Southern koala can weigh the same as a male Northern koala. Despite their size difference, koalas across Australia face the same threats of habitat destruction and fragmentation, injury from dog attacks and vehicle strikes, disease, and climate change.

And what about the wombats?

Wombats are the koalas closest living relative. Like the koala, they are marsupials with a backwards facing pouch where the young develop. The direction of the pouch also means the joey is protected from dirt if the mother is digging. Southern hairy-nosed wombats are believed to live for up to 15 years in the wild but in captivity they have been recorded as surviving well into their thirties. Like the koala, their main threats are habitat loss, vehicle accidents, drought and competition from other grazers. The wombats at Longleat Safari Park are a breeding pair called Deacon and Ellie.

If you would like any more information on Koala Creek or the International Koala Centre of Excellence please use the links provided below.

https://www.longleat.co.uk/education/workshops/koala-creek

https://www.koalacentre.org/home