Monday, May 27, 2013
The San Diego Zoo is debuting a new attraction this Memorial Day weekend. The zoo's senior veterinarian says the $7.4 million exhibit is a healthy expansion for the koala colony.
They're cute, cuddly and drawing large crowds at the San Diego Zoo's newest exhibit. Two joey (baby) koalas named Kirra and Gummy are settling in to their new, much bigger home.
The 3-acre outdoor Conrad Prebys Australian Outback exhibit is also home to 19 other koalas and a variety of Aussie animals, including wallabies and wombats, and 23 species of birds.
In their previous exhibit, female koalas spent much of their time indoors because the zoo thought the temperature-controlled environment was healthier for breeding females and their offspring, said Geoff Pye, senior veterinarian for the San Diego Zoo.
But Pye said he recently learned that the lack of sun and natural vitamin D was the reason 95 percent of the colony had a degenerative bone disease.
"Unfortunately we didn’t realize how important vitamin D is for koalas," said Pye, "and so having them outside and exposed to ultra violet light in the sun, allows them to produce vitamin D in their skin and we’ve pretty much eliminated the shoulder and hip problems that we had in the past."
Karen Lanyon, the Australian Consul General from Los Angeles, said the zoo’s successful koala program started in 1925 when Australia brought over its first koala.
"It’s the biggest colony of Queensland koalas outside Australia, so the biggest anywhere in the world, and it’s been very successful, it had 123 joeys over that time. "
The female and joey koalas can be viewed on the zoo's live Koala Cam.