ith the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, it’s a perfect opportunity to lay around, lounge in the shade and only get up to grab some food.
That’s not a bad way to spend the weekend. But for the newest addition to the Indianapolis Zoo, it’s a way of life.
The zoo is welcoming a pair of Queensland koalas — Milo and Thackory — to Indiana in a special exhibition opening this weekend. The furry visitors will be on display until Labor Day weekend.
Though crowds will line up to see the cuddly animals for their cuteness factor, the zoo is also hoping to use the opportunity to educate and inform people about the conservation and protection of the koala at the same time.
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“These are interesting animals. They are one of the only animals that can survive by eating eucalyptus,” said Susanne Wyatt, senior keeper at the Indianapolis Zoo. “They are marsupials which means they raise their young in a pouch.”
The koalas arrived in mid-May from the San Diego Zoo, where they were born in 2011. The zoo’s koala colony is the largest group of the iconic marsupials found anywhere outside of Australia.
Milo and Thackory have been paired up for most of their lives. They were born within weeks of each other, and keepers at the San Diego Zoo decided to house them together as soon as they were old enough to leave their mothers’ pouches.
Male koalas tend to be solitary and territorial. But these two koalas got along very well, and zoo officials decided to allow them to stay in the same enclosure, said Kirsten Clapham, senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.
This summer will be the fourth time the Indianapolis Zoo features koalas, and the first time since 2008. That year, the zoo had 1.1 million people come through its gates, many of whom were drawn by a pair of koalas named Coombah and Bamba.
Officials are hoping to follow up its record-breaking 2014 attendance, when more than 1.2 million people came after the opening of the new Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center.
“We try to keep things fresh for our guests, so that there are always new reasons to come back and learn more. We felt like it was time to bring them back,” said Carla Knapp, spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Zoo. “This was a good opportunity to reach a new audience that did not see the koalas the last time.”
Koalas are unique animals that are only found in nature living in the eucalyptus forests of eastern Australia.
They are marsupials, meaning that their young spend time developing in pouches immediately after being born.
Koalas like to sleep up to 20 hours each day while perched in the branches of a tree. The animals feed at night, eating as much as 1½ pounds of eucalyptus at a time.
“We have the eucalyptus shipped to the zoo because eucalyptus does not grow in Indiana’s climate,” Wyatt said.
Caring for koalas requires constant watching, to ensure they’re eating enough. Koalas are finicky eaters who will only munch on eucalyptus leaves.
The animals prefer the young, tender shoots at the top of the eucalyptus stalks. So keepers have to learn how to bundle the leaves tantalizingly in their habitat.
Every day, the koalas will be weighed and examined.
Wyatt and other Indianapolis Zoo keepers spent weeks in San Diego, meeting Milo and Thackory while learning how to care for the animals.
“They learned their likes, their dislikes, how to handle them, so that they’d be prepared to bring them here to Indiana and create a comfortable home for them,” Knapp said.
Since koalas spend their lives perched in eucalyptus groves throughout Australia, it makes sense that zoo officials have set them up in the Forest section of the facility.
Workers have spent the past months renovating an exhibit that used to house bats at the zoo. An outdoor courtyard has been added to simulate the Australian habitat. Special platforms were installed so the animals have places to perch, Wyatt said.
“We added appropriate perching to the exhibit to ensure that the koalas have plenty of room and places to sit,” she said.
While the koalas themselves are the main draw, zoo officials will use the animals to bring attention to conservation efforts.
Educators will be engaging visitors around the area with artifacts and information.
Models of their hands, with its long claws and strong digits, help illustrate how koalas can essentially live in the trees. Volunteers will also show how two digits on their paws are fused together, to use for grooming.
Pieces of fur and casts of a koala skull will help people understand how the marsupials live and survive in the wild.
Interactive displays will show about their habitats, their appetites and their struggles as more and more eucalyptus trees disappear in Australia, Knapp said.
“We want to help the guests learn a little bit more about the koalas,” Knapp said. “They can discover more and have a more personal connection with the animals they’re seeing.”
Size: 17 to 26 pounds for males, 11 to 19 pounds for females
Where they live: Woodlands and forests of eastern Australia
What they eat: The animals feed almost entirely on the leaf of the eucalyptus tree. As stands of the tree have been forested and cut down, the population of koalas have dwindled.
Koalas are marsupials, meaning they carry their young in a pouch. Other marsupials include kangaroos and wombats.
At birth, koalas are about the size of a jelly bean. The newborn koala, called a joey, lives in its mother’s pouch for six months. Then it rides on her back.
Because all koalas eat is the leaf of the eucalyptus tree, the animals spend most of their time in trees. Being perched on a branch helps the slow-moving koala avoid predators on the ground.
Koalas have developed hands with long claws and strong fingers, to navigate and climb trees. The koala’s hands have two “thumbs” while their feet have joined second and third digits with two claws, which the koala uses for grooming.
The animals are most solitary, and are most active at night.
— Information from the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland.
When: Saturday to Sept. 7
Where: Indianapolis Zoo
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday to Sunday and holidays
Cost: Tickets vary depending on day of the week. Prices are subject to change depending on availability
- Adults: $14.95 to $20.95
- Children ages 2 to 12: $11.45 to $16.70
- Children under 2 are free
Information and to buy tickets: indianapoliszoo.com
Means: “Eye” in Aboriginal
Age: 4 years old
Birthdate: July 2, 2011
Fun fact: Milo is the son of Coombah, who was part of the 2008 exhibit at the Indianapolis Zoo
Description: He is a very energetic koala, and is frequently seen jumping from perch to perch. He was named Milo because his eye was the first thing keepers saw peeking through his mom’s pouch before he fully emerged.
Means: “Heavy” in Aboriginal
Age: 4 years old
Birthdate: June 15, 2011
Fun fact: He is easy to identify because he has a pink spot on his nose.
Description: He’s a laid back koala who loves to greet his keepers at the door in the morning while he waits for his breakfast. He was named Thackory (“heavy”) because he was the larger of the two.