It was a glorious morning today as we celebrated the official opening of the San Diego Zoo’s brand-new exhibit, the Conrad Prebys Australian Outback. At last, our koalas have more space to do what they do best: look adorable even while sound asleep! In the koalas’ former exhibit, the animals had to take turns being outside, as there wasn’t enough exhibit space to allow them all (21 of ‘em!) out at once. But now there’s room for all, including 3 joeys ranging in age from 8 to 10 months.
The opening ceremony included remarks from San Diego Zoo Global’s chairman, Rick Gulley, representatives of the Yugambeh-language people of Australia’s Gold Coast, supported by Dreamworld, and Australia Consulate General Karen Lanyon, who declared the new exhibit “fantastic—a piece of Australia!” We were treated to a traditional welcome song and intricate dances depicting various birds as part of the opening.
Australian Outback is a 3-acre area home to our famous koalas as well as wallabies, wombats, and 23 species of Australian birds. But for me this morning, it was all about the koalas and their new care facility. Designed to look like a Queenslander-style house, it features large viewing windows so guests can see the copious amounts of eucalyptus housed in a giant walk-in cooler and watch koala keepers prepare that eucalyptus for their charges to nibble on at their leisure. Wrapped around three quarters of the “house” are the koala enclosures: 10 individual enclosures for the male koalas, who apparently prefer a life of quiet solitude, and 2 bigger enclosures for the females, who don’t mind company. It is the larger of these enclosures that is now featured on Koala Cam. Basically, there are now LOTS of opportunities to view koalas as you make your way around the house.
The keepers I talked to this morning had big grins as they shared how nice this new facility is for the koalas. Sometimes koalas can be unpredictable with changes, but Chris Hamlin Andrus, the animal care manager for the area, said that all of the koalas are doing remarkably well so far in their new home. She is so grateful to Conrad Prebys, other donors, and their love for animals for donating the funds to make it all possible. Zoo Veterinarian Geoff Pye is glad the koalas all have a chance to be in the fresh air and sunshine, which will reduce possible vitamin D deficiency, as our koalas have been prone to hip dysplasia in the past.
I chatted with Zoo guests to get some of their impressions as they strolled around. “Loved it!” and “Awesome” were expressions I heard often. One guest declared that the lighting is so much better in the new exhibit—better for photographers! I hope our koala fans will make plans to visit soon. Be sure to bring your camera!
Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.