COLUMBIA, SC (NBC/WIS) – Conservation programs in the United States are hoping to help restore the wildlife population in Australia.
With at least an eighth of the koala population already killed in the fires, repopulation for that already vulnerable species will take a lot of work.
The Koala Barn at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, S.C. is home to two fuzzy marsupials, 18-year-old Lottie and her two and a half year old daughter, Charlotte.
“They do have a really cool natural history which is why I love talking to people about koalas because they have a lot of adaptations that help them survive in the wild,” said Catherine Connell, Zookeeper.
Connell has been at riverbanks for seven years caring for Lottie so the koala can focus on her most important job, having joeys.
Director of animal care John Davis says a sister-state partnership with Queensland is how Lottie traveled to Riverbanks in the first place.
“Getting koalas out of Queensland Australia doesn’t happen very often so this was a very unique special gift for us,” explained Davis.
Lottie came to Riverbanks in 2002. She’s had 11 babies. Those babies then had their own babies.
Lottie has 14 grand joeys, 6 great grand-babies and now one great great grand-baby.
When koalas babies are only a month old and the size of a jelly bean.
They immediately climb into mom’s pouch, where they stay for 6 months while they grow.
“All of the sudden you’ll start seeing an arm or a head and then you know it’s close and it’s starting to come out and we get to see it for the first time,” said Connell.
It’s a critical program. If koalas become endangered or functionally extinct in the wake of the australian bush fires, repopulation in captivity could be the answer to koala survival.
“I’ve definitely been shedding some tears because there’s a sense of helplessness when it’s so far away and when you work directly with animals, the species being affected by this it’s definitely hit home,” said Connell.
While the full extent of the impact to koalas in the wild right is unknown now, the impact zoos like Riverbanks could have is large.