VISITORS to the Singapore Zoo can now say "hi" to its latest residents from Down Under - four koalas named Paddle, Chan (pronounced Shan), Pellita and Idalia.
Koalamania, a 210 sq m koala enclosure in the zoo's Australian Outback section, opened to the public at noon yesterday.
It was also announced that the marsupials, on a six-month loan from Australia, may become permanent gifts to Singapore.
The loan of the furry quartet "underscores very strong bonds" between the two countries, which mark 50 years of diplomatic relations this year, said Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, who was speaking at the koalas' housewarming party.
"At a people-to-people level, the connectivity is huge," he said. "Some 50,000 Singaporeans work and study in Australia, and we have 20,000 Australians in Singapore."
The four female koalas, which hail from the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, may be given Singaporean names, said Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Addressing Mr Shanmugam, she added that Australia wants the koalas to be a permanent gift.
"It just means there's a little bit of work that needs to be done on Singapore's side, and that is to find hectares of land where you can grow the Eucalypt. I don't think the koalas are going to change their diet any time soon," she said.
Eucalyptus leaves, the only food koalas eat, are flown in via Australian national carrier Qantas twice a week.
Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, chief life sciences officer at Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which runs the zoo, estimated that 5ha of land - about the size of six football fields - is needed to grow enough leaves to feed four koalas, with each eating about 500g daily.
Eucalyptus grows very well in tropical climates, he said.
The koalas arrived on April 13 and were quarantined for a month. Dr Cheng said they have adapted well to their enclosure, where temperatures are kept at between 22 deg C and 24 deg C, and humidity at 50 per cent to 60 per cent.
Ms Claire Chiang, chairman of WRS, said: "(The koalas') stay at the Singapore Zoo presents an excellent opportunity for visitors to have a peek at these fascinating animals that stand among the biggest icons of endemic Australian wildlife."
A month-long celebration, which includes aboriginal dance performances, Australian arts and crafts stations, and mascot meet- and-greet sessions, has been planned for the June school holidays. In celebration of SG50, Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 60 and above will enjoy free admission to the zoo from May 30 to June 30.
The best time to visit the koalas, which sleep for 18 to 22 hours a day, is during their feeding times at 9.30am and 4pm daily.
Corporate service officer Kris Anna, 50, took leave from work yesterday to be one of the first to visit them. She was there with her 23-year-old son.
"I hope to get to know more about them, such as what they are like as babies and their mating rituals," she said. "I've seen them only in documentaries before."
The Singapore Zoo is giving away two passes to the koala edition of its 2D1N Sleep with the Beasts camp on Sept 5 and 6.
Each pass, worth $680, is for four people. Highlights include a campfire and behind-the-scenes look at how keepers take care of the koalas.
For a chance to win, answer this question: The four koalas at the Singapore Zoo are named Chan, Idalia, Paddle and Pellita. True/False?
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This article was first published on May 21, 2015.
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