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European First as Koala Born at Longleat

A baby southern koala is set to make its first public appearance at Longleat over the coming days.
The baby, known as a joey, is the first ever southern koala to have been born in Europe. Although mum Violet gave birth last year, the baby spent the first six months of its life safely inside her pouch and is only now beginning to start venturing outside.
The successful birth is a major milestone for the Wiltshire safari park which opened its purpose-built facility in 2019 and also for Lord Bath, who has been instrumental in bringing koalas to Longleat and is the patron of the Koala Life charitable organisation based in South Australia.
“The arrival of the first baby southern koala is a huge event for the entire team here and something we have all been working towards and hoping for since we launched the new facility three years ago,” he said.
“We are delighted with how well both mother and baby are doing. As well as being a first for us, this is also Violet’s first experience of motherhood and she is proving to be a caring and attentive parent.
“We are still not fully sure on the sex of the joey but hope to get a better idea when it starts to spend more time outside of the pouch. Currently we want to leave them alone as much as possible,” he added.
Koalas give birth after around a month-long pregnancy. The joey is born blind and hairless and about the same size as a jellybean. Within minutes, the tiny baby is able to find its way into its mother’s pouch.
As it continues to grow and develop, the joey will leave the pouch and explore. However, it will remain largely dependent on its mother until it is up to a year old.
Longleat has been working closely with the Government of South Australia and Cleland Wildlife Park to establish Koala Creek as a European hub for the species.
“It has been a long and complicated process, but this birth is really important for a number of reasons,” said keeper James Dennis.
“As well as helping to raise awareness of the southern koala and the threats it faces in the wild, it is also teaching us so much about the species’ complex lifecycle.
“One of the most concerning issues with regard to southern koalas in Australia is the high levels of inbreeding and so the fact we are able to begin establishing a genetically diverse population here in Europe is also really important,” he added.
At Longleat the koalas’ purpose-built enclosure includes a natural stream, eucalyptus trees, climbing poles, a mix of indoor and outdoor habitats, viewing areas, and a medical care unit.
A plantation of eucalyptus trees has also been established on the estate to provide the koalas with a regular supply of leaves, the only thing the marsupials will eat.
The facility is part of a ground-breaking joint initiative with the Government of South Australia, Cleland Wildlife Park and Longleat to support research and raise funds for koala management and conservation.
In the aftermath of the bushfires, keepers from Koala Creek travelled out to South Australia to help with the recovery programme and in 2020 Longleat donated over £50,000 to support koala conservation and recovery programmes.
“The breeding of the first southern koala born in Europe represents the culmination of this fantastic partnership to better understand and protect koalas,” said Professor Chris Daniels, from the University of South Australia and Chair of Koala Life.
“In addition, Longleat now has a small but vital group of healthy animals free of debilitating diseases including chlamydia and retrovirus. This will help us understand how to keep sanctuary populations heathy and provide important information about the effects of these diseases.
“So, this joey represents a small, but vital step in the process to secure the long-term survival of one of the world's most loved animals. A major achievement,” he added.
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.
Visitors will have their first opportunity to see the baby koala when Longleat re-opens to the public this weekend.