Sunday, 12 April 2015

Singapore Zoo to welcome four koalas from Australia

By Jack Board, Channel NewsAsia, 9 Apr 2015

BRISBANE: Singapore is set to become the new home to four koalas from Australia as part of celebrations for SG50, and the 50th anniversary of Australia-Singapore diplomatic relations.

The official announcement was made in Brisbane on Thursday (Apr 9) for the bilateral initiative that will see the koalas live in a purpose-built exhibit at Singapore Zoo for six months.

* Gift of koalas and more to mark 50 years of Australia-Singapore ties

Next week, the koalas will fly to Singapore, but the official handover will take place on May 20, after the animals complete the necessary quarantine procedures and when their renovated enclosure is complete. The koalas have already been held in quarantine for several months at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane.

Custom-built, climate-controlled capsules - equipped with a tree and high quality leaves - have been built for the koalas for their air journey. Jacqui Brumm, the Deputy General Manager of Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary said it has been a challenge to prepare the creatures for the trip, given all four were born in captivity and have never left the sanctuary.

"It will be a little anxious for them and for us at the same time because they'll be in a cargo hold for eight to 10 hours," she said. "They don't particularly like humidity so sending them to Singapore was one of the first things that I had in mind that we needed to overcome that issue."


The koalas are named Paddle, Pellita, Chan and Idalia.

Paddle is the oldest of the four at 8 years of age and is very maternal by nature, said the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. She is often found babysitting the joey's of her housemates. 

Pelita is 6 years of age and quite shy and reserved. However, according to the sanctuary, she has an alter ego who is very active and can often be seen running around her exhibit in the morning and late afternoon. 

On the other hand, Chan, 5, is independent, energetic and inquisitive. She can be seen at times thoroughly exploring her exhibit. 

The baby of the group is Idalia. At 2 years old, she is young and full of energy. She is often overseeing anything unusual in her surroundings. 


Although officials confirmed the koalas are just on loan at this time, the arrangement will become permanent once Singapore Zoo is able to support its own koala colony. However, experts say that this may take up to three years, as it would require planting eucalyptus trees for the koalas to eat and would require an area of about five hectares.

Given koalas' special dietary requirement of native eucalyptus, mostly leaves, the Australian airline Qantas will transport fresh food supplies twice per week for the duration of the loan. Koalas can eat up to nearly half a kilogram of leaves each day, about the size of a full plastic shopping bag.

In the meantime, Singapore Zoo has spent about S$1 million constructing the custom-designed enclosure, which will allow visitors to get within metres of the animals. 

"It's a climate-controlled exhibit to ensure the the humidity can be managed, the temperature can be managed and to ensure when the visitors come they have a very nice encounter with the koalas," said Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Chief Life Sciences Officer at Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Visitors to the zoo should not expect high activity from the marsupials; due to their diet, they normally sleep for up to 20 hours per day.


The initiative is seen as a gesture of goodwill ahead of final negotiations to formalise the two nations' Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, called Project 2025, which was announced in August last year. It provides a 10-year framework for closer economic ties, as well as in defence, foreign affairs and people-to-people fields.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who brainstormed the koala initiative with her Singaporean counterpart K Shanmugam, said there could be "no better ambassadors" for Australia than the four marsupials.

"Koala diplomacy is about a strong and enduring friendship between the two nations," she said. "There is no stronger or more enduring partnership than that between Australia and Singapore.

"Our koalas represent our national icon, in terms of flora and fauna. They represent the creativity and curiosity of the outback and the warmth and the depth of friendship that Australia offers to the world. Our koala ambassadors will be given world class care and of that we are absolutely assured."

"I believe that Australia and Singapore will remain firm friends. Indeed I believe the best days of the Australia-Singapore relationship lie ahead of us," she added.


It was a sentiment echoed by Mr Burhan Gafoor, Singapore's High Commissioner to Australia, who joked that like all Australians, the four koalas will not require visas for their stay.

"In many ways the koala is the ultimate symbol of friendship, it is the perfect marsupial mascot of mate-ship," he said. "The koala is warm, cuddly and absolutely irresistible. In many ways Singapore and Australia are irresistible friends. Our relations are warm, and from time to time, even cuddly.

"I have no doubt the koalas will become instant celebrities at the Singapore Zoo. They will become very powerful symbols of our very close friendship and more importantly they will become ambassadors of goodwill."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is expected to visit Singapore later this year to sign a joint declaration with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to mark the 50 years of relations. Mr Abbott was also recently in Singapore to attend the funeral service for its founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Philip Green, Australia's High Commissioner to Singapore said the initiative is something Mr Lee Kuan Yew would have respected and encouraged. 

"I'd like to think that this is legacy of the great things that Mr Lee did for our bilateral relationship," Mr Green said. "He was a very strong supporter of Australia and of Australia-Singapore links. I think he would think this was a way of showing we have a very special relationship and one that can grow in the future.

"Our bilateral relationship is deep and strong. We think that can become even stronger. We have complementary skills in our economies and we want to drive greater economic integration. All in all there's a very serious side; that's about security, trade, investment and people-to-people links. But today, it's about koalas."


Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam expressed his appreciation to Australia for their loan of four koalas to Singapore. He said the loan comes at a special moment for Singapore.

“Australia’s decision to entrust four of its cherished national icons to Singapore underscores the deep friendship between both countries. The conclusion of the Singapore-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership later this year will help bring our already-close bilateral relations to a new level,” said Mr Shamuganam.

He added that he would like to express his appreciation to Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, who played a key role in Australia’s decision to loan the koalas, as well as the Australian Government, the Australian High Commission in Singapore, Qantas, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and Wildlife Reserves Singapore for their important roles in making this possible.

Currently, Singapore also has a 10-year loan arrangement for two pandas, Kai Kai and Jia Jia, received from China to mark 20 years of Sino-Singapore relations. The pair are on display at the River Safari, along with two Japanese raccoon dogs on exchange from the Asahiyama Zoo in Hokkaido.

The word is out! Come late May, get up close with four furry little ladies over at Singapore Zoo.
Posted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore on Thursday, April 16, 2015

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