Longleat launches koala breeding programme

LONGLEAT is spearheading an international breeding and awareness-building programme for Australia’s iconic and increasingly threatened koala.

Later this year the Wiltshire estate, which opened the world’s first drive-through safari outside Africa in 1966, will receive a group of up to six southern koalas from Cleland Wildlife Park in Adelaide.

After spending time in quarantine the koalas, along with a pair of wombats which are the koalas’ closest relative, will be transferred into a purpose-built area. Koala Creek includes a natural stream, eucalyptus trees, climbing poles, naturally-themed indoor and outdoor habitats, viewing areas, interpretation boards as well as a Koala Care unit. As part of the initiative Longleat has also developed a 4,000-tree eucalyptus plantation and employed a full-time browse manager to look after the koalas’ main food source.

Longleat will act as a European hub for the newly-created International Koala Centre of Excellence (ICKE), which is based at Cleland, and has been established by the Government of South Australia to enhance the management and conservation of the koala. It will fund and direct ground-breaking research and conservation of Australia’s best loved species in the hope of securing its long term future in the wild.

Viscount Weymouth Ceawlin Thynn, who is International Patron for the organisation, said: “Australian native species are a source of great fascination around the world, and we are privileged to be able to share them and their important conservation message with our visitors,” he said. “We already growing a plantation of 4,000 eucalyptus trees to ensure the koalas have their favourite food on hand, and one of our keepers has been working at Cleland to get to know our new arrivals,” he added.

Longleat’s Koala Creek will be the only place to see koalas in England, one of only two locations in the UK, and the only one in Europe to look after southern koalas. There are two main subspecies of koala; the smaller northern variety and the southern koala which has much thicker fur and can weigh twice as much as their northern relatives.

Koalas are officially considered to be vulnerable in the wild according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. A vulnerable species is one which is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances that are threatening its survival and reproduction improve. In 2012 the koala was listed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ under Australian Law.

Pictured: Heather Freeman, senior koala keeper at Cleland Wildlife Park with Viscount and Viscountess Weymouth Ceawlin and Emma Thynn