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Koala Knockabout

In 2001, the governments of South Carolina and Queensland in Australia forged a sister state relationship. Less than a year later, that relationship generated one of the most profound gifts that the government of Australia is willing to bestow—koalas.

Two male koalas arrived at Riverbanks in January 2002 from the Hirakawa Zoo in Japan. A little more than a year later, two female koalas were transferred to Riverbanks from the David Fleay Wildlife Park on Queensland's Gold Coast. These four koalas were the first authorized by the Australian government to be transferred to the United States since 1990. Koalas are considered a national treasure by the Australian government and are rarely made available to zoos in other countries.

The Koala Knockabout exhibit at Riverbanks was designed with the long-term management of koalas in mind. The facility contains two spacious indoor exhibits and one outdoor exhibit for the koalas, as a koala lives a solitary life. Four off exhibit areas increase the holding capacity to six adults and, hopefully, their offspring. A walk-in cooler holds the eucalyptus leaves that are shipped in each week.

The day-to-day care of koalas is quite involved. They eat only a few types of eucalyptus leaves, and unfortunately, will not eat the species commonly found in Columbia. Eucalyptus is flown in from Florida, Arizona and the South Carolina coast twice a week to ensure freshness. The horticulturists at Riverbanks also have established a grove of eucalyptus to use in emergencies, but the amounts required for day-to-day feeding are too great for the growing space available at Riverbanks.

When you visit Koala Knockabout, chances are you will see the koalas at rest. Koalas feed about four hours a day. The rest of their time is spent sleeping.

Koala Knockabout also is home to wallabies, lorikeets and reptiles and fish native to Australia. On the north side of the building is a large free-flight aviary, which is home to lorikeets. These are small colorful parrots that feed on nectar. Visitors can purchase small cups of nectar and enter the aviary to feed these beautiful birds. On the south side of the exhibit is a spacious area that represents more of the Australian Outback, with two species of wallabies and the outdoor koala exhibit. The indoor exhibit also includes a large aquarium filled with colorful Australian fishes and corals, and bearded dragons and water dragons represent the Australian world of reptiles.

Educational graphics abound with information about all the animals and South Carolina's sister state relationship with Queensland. As part of the relationship and as a result of the gifts, Riverbanks and the government of Queensland are collaborating on projects to benefit koalas living at the zoo and in the wild in Queensland.

In September 2004, one of the female koalas, Lottie, gave birth to her first joey and began, hopefully, a successful breeding program that will establish a new genetic line of koalas in the United States. Only a few zoos in the country have successfully bred koalas.