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Koalas make an adorable, yet sleepy return to the Louisville Zoo

Telowie the Koala at the Louisville Zoo
Giselle Rhoden
Telowie was ready to greet visitors while eating his daily dose of eucalyptus leaves once the exhibit doors opened Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

Koalas are back at the Louisville Zoo for the first time since 2000.

For the first time in more than two decades, koalas have returned to the Louisville Zoo: Dharuk, a two-year-old male and Telowie, a four-year-old male.

The male duo, originally from the San Diego Zoo, arrived in Louisville like many out-of-town visitors: on a commercial flight with their own seats. San Diego Zoo’s wildlife care specialist Scott Rammel said he traveled with the two koalas, who were both in their own kennels.

“They don't go in cargo. They fly with us,” Rammel said. “Travel was very smooth, and both boys did very well.”

The koala exhibit opened outside the zoo’s Glacier Run area on Tuesday to an excited and cheering crowd of young visitors and their families. On one end of the exhibit, Telowie greeted visitors while munching on eucalyptus leaves, an essential food in any koala's diet. On the other, Dharuk snoozed high in a tree.

“It's very exciting,” said the zoo’s assistant mammal curator, Jessica Cunningham. “We haven't had koalas here in quite a long time. This is gonna be a long term loan for us. So we're really excited to share all the information about the koalas with our guests.”

The last time the zoo had koalas was in the 1980s and again in 2000, according to a zoo spokesperson. At the time, both exhibits were temporary. This time, Dharuk and Telowie will stay at the Louisville Zoo indefinitely.

Both were born at the San Diego Zoo. The California-based zoo hosts one of the largest and most successful koalas breeding programs outside of Australia. The first koalas came to the San Diego Zoo in 1925, as a gift from the children of Sydney. As of this year, the San Diego Zoo has between 20 to 35 koalas on site, Rammel said.

Dharuk and Telowie’s trip was made possible through an “agreement with the Australian government,” according to a Louisville Zoo spokesperson.

“It's always sad to see a couple of them go,” Rammel said, “but we know they're in a really good situation. They're gonna have a really good time here in Louisville. The people are really going to enjoy him.”

The Louisville Zoo is one of nine zoos in the country to have koalas. Zoo officials said they hope to bring more koalas in the future.

Giselle is LPM's breaking news reporter. Email Giselle at grhoden@lpm.org.

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