If you’re headed to the Kansas City Zoo the next few months, get ready to hear a lot of “Oh, they’re so cute.”
Two male koalas on loan from the San Diego Zoo will call the Kansas City Zoo home through fall.
“We’ve brought koalas back,” said zoo director Randy Wisthoff. “It’s been about nine years. They were really, really, really popular when we brought them in 2007. So we decided for a little encore visit.”
The koalas — Coedie and Burra — will be housed in the Koala Flats exhibit, which opens to the public at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
The zoo spent about $1 million in private and public money to renovate the former fallow deer feeding station to house the 2-year-old marsupials. The building will be used to house other animals once the koalas leave. The koala exhibit is near the carousel and the penguin exhibit.
“They are great fun,” Wistoff said. “People come and love them and the biggest thing you’ll hear up here all season long is ‘They’re so cute’ and ‘Do you think they’re awake?’ and ‘Are they ever going to move?’ ”
Koalas are notorious for hanging out in eucalyptus branches, he said.
Coedie and Burra traveled to Kansas City on Southwest Airlines. They spent the last few days getting accustomed to their new exhibit and the new zookeepers who care for them. A zookeeper from the San Diego Zoo also came to Kansas City to ease the marsupials’ transition.
The koalas will have separate living quarters while in Kansas City, and zoo visitors will be able to see them from different vantage points. The zoo will have daily zookeeper chats at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. to teach visitors more about the koalas.
The koalas have a strict diet primarily of fresh eucalyptus leaves, which must be flown in twice a week from San Diego. The zoo has four kinds of leaves that will be flown in and changed out throughout the day.
The two koalas, born in August 2013 within a couple of days of each other, will celebrate their third birthday this summer at the Kansas City Zoo.
“We will probably have a big old fantastic Kansas City birthday party for them this summer or a couple of birthday parties,” Wistoff said.
The first thing people need to know is that koalas are not bears, he said.
“They’re closer related to possums from this area,” he said. “They are in a little bit of trouble in Australia. They live in eucalyptus trees, but there’s concern about their numbers because of more and more development that is going on in Australia.”
The koala’s fate is similar to possums in the Kansas City area.
“They don’t stand much of a chance on a highway or a housing district with cars and dogs,” Wisthoff said. “Money that we support the koalas being here with goes into conservation programs in Australia to try to figure out how to preserve habitat for them.”
Coedie and Burra will be on loan through the San Diego Zoo’s koala conservation and education program through November.
Jennifer Roesler, senior zookeeper at the San Diego Zoo, said that because Coedie and Burra grew up together, they are used to being housed together. Normally, male koalas are very solitary in the wild.
“They formed a really good bond of being good friends,” Roesler said.
The Kansas City Zoo is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends.
Although koalas are loved by children and adults, they are very expensive to maintain.
“Keeping them long term is almost cost prohibitive,” Wisthoff said. “So keeping them four, five or six months is easy to do. San Diego (Zoo) makes them available. They are great ambassadors.”
Kansas City Zoo’s koala facts
▪ Coedie and Burra were born in August 2013 at the San Diego Zoo.
▪ Their names are Aboriginal, meaning “boy” (Coedie) and “big fellow” (Burra).
▪ Koalas eat about 2 pounds of eucalyptus leaves a day.
▪ Because their diet provides very low energy, koalas sleep and rest about 20 hours a day,
▪ Koalas are marsupials, meaning they have their babies — called joeys — in a pouch like kangaroos.
▪ The word “koala” means “no drink” in the Aboriginal language.