A Bicentennial Gift of Koalas

Koalas were among the superstar residents of the San Diego Zoo from its earliest days. Out-of-town Zoo visitors and members alike loved looking through the leaves of the eucalyptus trees in their exhibit to catch a glimpse of the fuzzy marsupials. Yet keepers and curators wondered why there had been no reproduction since 1968. Several factors were considered, but there wasn’t a clear reason they could pinpoint. Inquiries were made about the possibility of bringing new koalas from Australia to join the San Diego group; restrictions on importing Australia’s native wildlife were tighter than ever, but with San Diego’s long history of caring for koalas, government officials did seem receptive to the idea.

Then, sadly, the Zoo’s much-loved male koala, Teddy, passed away, ending hopes for any further breeding. But Teddy had appeared in several advertisements for Qantas Airlines, and Australians sent expressions of sympathy over his loss. The government decided to waive the export ban as an expression of goodwill, and they offered six koalas to the San Diego Zoo as a Bicentennial gift from Australia to the United States. Zoological Society director Charles Bieler and the Zoological Society board of trustees very gratefully accepted the generous gift.

The six koalas came from the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, and when they arrived at the airport in San Diego, they were accompanied by Paul and Pat Robertson from Lone Pine (in back, carrying koalas), Charles Bieler (center), and Society president Ivor de Kirby (front). An enthusiastic welcoming committee included Zoo members, staff, board trustees, press, and Deputy Mayor Maureen O’Connor. The koalas—males Cough Drop and Waltzing, and females Matilda, Audrey, Pepsi, and Coke—seemed bemused by it all, and soon returned to munching their eucalyptus.


New Era 1967 - 1976
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