Edinburgh Zoo koalas grin and bear it

Picture: Neil Hanna

Picture: Neil Hanna

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CLAMBERING over his brand new climbing frame eight-year-old Yabbra the koala is having a ball.

He seems more than pleased with his new pad – the £40,000 revamped Koala Territory at Edinburgh Zoo which has taken three months to complete – home to the only animals of his kind in a British zoo.

And this weekend he and his friends are preparing for their first visitors – the great Edinburgh public – to show it off in time for the zoo’s centenary celebrations.

“The new Koala Territory is lighter and brighter than it was before,” explains team leader Lorna Hughes. “The revamp was a great chance to completely re-do the enclosure to how we wanted it.

“So, we moved the koalas out for three months to protect them from any noise or disturbance and basically gutted the original enclosure. All the original walls have been taken down and it’s now glass-fronted, so it’s a much more improved visitor experience as the public will really be able to see the koalas.”

Visitors to the zoo this weekend will get the first chance to see Yabbra and his chums, nine-year-old Goonaroo and two-year-old Alinga, in their new surroundings.

Thanks to the remodelling of the enclosure, the two males will be able to see each other for the first time, due to the removal of solid walls.

Additionally, the female, Alinga – who only joined the zoo on Valentine’s Day this year – will be the boys’ neighbour.

Lorna, who has worked at the zoo for over 19 years, explains: “Alinga is the first female koala at Edinburgh Zoo and she gives us the potential for breeding.

“As part of the Koala Territory refurbishment we have expanded the size of it – probably doubling it – so they’ve got lots of extra space.

“The aviary which was originally next to the koala enclosure has been moved, and that’s where Alinga will live – right next door to the two males in her own new space.

“Goonaroo and Yabbra will be in separate enclosures, but for the first time, they will be able to see each other thanks to the glass.”

The koala’s new pad is decked out in subtle shades such as light greens, while wood has also been used to help give the enclosure a natural look.

Outside is a range of plants native to Australia, the koalas’ natural habitat.

Alinga, Goonaroo and Yabbra have spent the past few days getting used to their new home while Lorna and her team of eight primate staff have been monitoring them to make sure they are comfortable, happy and as settled as possible.

“We like to keep a close eye on how they’re feeling, checking them over first thing in the morning which Goonaroo doesn’t really like as he’s always grumpy,” Lorna says.

“They eat about half a kilo of eucalyptus each day, with each bunch made up of five different types.

“And they each have their favourite type of eucalyptus which we try to give them a bit of each day, but it depends what is available.”

She adds: “It’s really five-star accommodation for them.”

The new Koala Territory is opening its doors just in time for the zoo’s birthday celebrations.

The venue has been marking the occasion with events throughout the year, including the current Sand Zoo exhibition featuring masterpieces made from the material.

But to celebrate the zoo’s actual 100th birthday on Monday, bosses have some very special events planned for staff and visitors.

Kicking off the day, 200 staff will be snapped for a commemorative photograph in front of Mansion House.

And fans of cuddly toys will get the chance to take home and keep their very own toy panda with 100 of them hidden around the zoo.

There will also be free animal masks for children on arrival on Monday.

And, not to be left out, the penguins will get a new play-toy thanks to the addition of a giant “100” into the Penguins Rock.

But no birthday would be complete without a cake, and to mark the occasion, Edinburgh Zoo has organised a very special one.

Murrayfield-based 3D Cakes is making a three-foot high king penguin cake – the symbol of the venue.

n For more information on the day’s events, visit www.edinburghzoo.org.uk.

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