Cleland Wildlife Park in the Adelaide Hills is today officially farewelling up to six trailblazing koalas and two wombats, which are destined for Longleat Safari Park in England’s southwest.
In July, the South Australian Government signed an MOU with Longleat custodian Lord Weymouth, agreeing to transfer the animals to act as international ambassador animals for conservation education and engagement purposes.
The animals will fly with their keepers and the Cleland vet in a specially arranged Singapore Airlines cargo plane from Adelaide to London via Singapore, a journey of approximately 35 hours door-to-door.
Minister for Environment and Water David Speirs said the animals will help spread the message about the importance and uniqueness of Australian native animals and their conservation in the United Kingdom and from there to Europe and the northern Hemisphere.
“The transfer of the koalas to Longleat has been more than two years in the making, due to the complexity of the operation,” said Minister Speirs.
“Longleat and Cleland specialist teams have been collaborating to ensure the koalas are as well prepared as possible for this unprecedented journey.
“The koalas have been in quarantine at Cleland for the past five months and during that time they have been slowly conditioned to spend long periods perched in their travelling crates and become accustomed to aircraft noise, to prepare them to travel to the other side of the world.
“The wombats have been in quarantine at Adelaide Zoo and their transfer is much more straightforward as they are used to spending long periods confined in underground burrows.”
Cleland Director Chris Daniels said planning for the journey effectively started two years ago when a population of koalas were selected that were thought to have the ‘right stuff’.
“We needed to ensure the koalas on the training program had the right personalities - that they were happy to be handled, would bond with their keepers, could be readily trained and were not easily stressed. Most importantly, they need to be in excellent health,” said Professor Daniels.
“We are confident that the koalas finally selected will travel and settle well and that we have prepared them for every conceivable eventuality.”
Longleat custodian Lord Weymouth said the koalas and wombats are expected to go on display at Longleat in March 2019 after a period in quarantine.
“The koalas will live in a specially-designed enclosure called Koala Creek that features a natural spring, themed indoor and outdoor habitats and viewing areas,” said Lord Weymouth.
“Two Longleat keepers and the Longleat veterinarian have spent extended time at Cleland over the past few months, learning how to care for the animals.
“In addition, one of Cleland’s expert koala keepers will stay on with the animals at Longleat to ensure a smooth transition.
“Longleat will initially import eucalyptus from South Australia then move the koalas to European gum before they feed on leaves from their favourite eucalyptus varieties which have been planted at Longleat.
“Longleat is about to become the first place in England where Southern koalas can be seen and we are sure these animals will be a big drawcard to the more than 1.2 million people who visit annually.”
Lord Weymouth is also the International Patron of the International Koala Centre of Excellence (IKCE) based at Cleland, a new initiative to raise funds to support research for koala management and conservation.