Lifestyle

Australian outback exhibit welcomes San Diego Zoo koalas and more

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koala3A new 3-acre exhibit, the Conrad Prebys Australian Outback, opened on Friday, May 24. This recently finished part of the San Diego Zoo is the new home of koalas, other marsupials such as wallabies, wombats and the other mammal that lays eggs, the echidna, with its short beak. Also to be seen in the outback are aviaries containing birds native to Australia, including the kookaburra and bowerbird.

The first view of the new section is dominated by 8 to 15 feet high totems, each one meant to be a different aspect of people’s personalities, as portrayed in an animal form. The totems are a koala, platypus, crocodile, kangaroo, Tasmanian devil, and kookaburra. In the belief system of the Australian aboriginals, a specific animal, representing a certain attribute, will call out to each person, based on their personality traits.

One whose call will make you smile is the laughing kookaburra. Its cry is a cacophony combining a number of trills, chortles, belly laughs, and hoots. It begins and ends with a low chuckle and has a shrieking “laugh” in the middle. The song is the method by which claims are made on territory by the birds.

Another exhibit along the trail is of the wombats. These furry folks have wide, strong feet with large claws that make them experts of excavation. They dig burrows and construct efficient tunnels to get to their deeply buried sleeping areas.koala1

And of course, the koalas themselves are on view. In the wild, these critters make a home in the forest, and only eat the leaves of the eucalyptus tree. They are extremely slow-moving beasts, and are busy most of the time sleeping as their food is digested. Since they would be easy prey if found asleep on the ground, the koalas have evolved to live their entire lives nestled in the branches of their beloved eucalyptus. From their perch above, the koala can munch on leaves and slumber in safety.

At the time of its opening, the Australian Outback exhibit houses 21 koalas, part of the largest and most successful breeding program of the Queensland koala outside of Australia. For a wonderful animated tour of the zoo’s new Australian Outback, go to: www.sandiegozoo.org/koalafornia/exhibit.

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