Brookfield Zoo

Koalas debut at Brookfield Zoo Chicago for first time ever

Brookfield Zoo Chicago is one of only 11 zoos to have koalas.

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Koalas made their debut Tuesday at Brookfield Zoo Chicago for the first time in the zoo's 90-year history. Members of the zoo got a sneak preview of the koalas before the exhibit opened to the public.

"The chance to welcome koalas is a really unique opportunity for us," said Dr. Mike Adkesson, president and CEO of Brookfield Zoo Chicago. "Koalas are an animal that most people will recognize and they know, but chances are they've not seen one in person before. So, we're one of only 11 zoos to have koalas."

Two-year-old Willum and almost 2-year-old Brumby arrived last week from California.

Koalas are marsupials, not bears like some people call them.

"They’re actually closely related to kangaroos and wombats, both species that we have here in our Australia house," said Mark Wanner, associate vice president of Animal Care and Conservation. "So yeah, I think a long time ago, some of the first people, they kind of set foot on the continent of Australia, sort of thought they were bears."

Koalas are solitary and kept separated so they don't fight. They also sleep 18 to 22 hours a day.

"They're one of the few animals in the world that strictly eats eucalyptus," Wanner said. "Eucalyptus is poisonous, has a poisonous toxicity to it, and one of the reasons why they sleep so much is they have to digest their food."

The koalas are on loan from the San Diego Zoo and will be at Brookfield Zoo Chicago for the next two years.

How can you tell the difference between Willum and Brumby? According to the zoo, Willum has a darker nose than Brumby's, and he is the larger of the two. Brumby has a large pink spot on his nose.

"Koalas are listed as a 'vulnerable' species by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) in its native land of Australia," Brookfield Zoo Chicago wrote in a press release. "Found in Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales, the species faces several threats, including deforestation, fragmentation of its habitat for development, bushfires, disease, and drought."

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