Up to six koalas from Australia will come to live at Longleat later this year as part of an international breeding and awareness-building programme.
The Wiltshire estate is creating a new habitat for six southern koalas from Cleland Wildlife Park in Adelaide.
After spending time in quarantine, the koalas will be transferred to a purpose-built area called Koala Creek – along with a pair of wombats, which are the koalas’ closest relative.
The habitat includes a natural stream, eucalyptus trees, climbing poles, viewing areas, interpretation boards and a koala care unit.
Longleat will act as a European hub for the new International Koala Centre of Excellence (ICKE), which is based at Cleland, and aims to secure the species’ long-term future in the wild.
Longleat heir Viscount Weymouth Ceawlin Thynn, who is International Patron for ICKE, said: “Australian native species are a source of great fascination around the world, and we are privileged to be able to share them and their important conservation message with our visitors.
“We already growing a plantation of 4,000 eucalyptus trees to ensure the koalas have their favourite food on hand, and one of our keepers has been working at Cleland to get to know our new arrivals.”
Longleat’s Koala Creek will be the only place to see koalas in England, one of only two locations in the UK, and the only one in Europe to look after southern koalas.
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.
Koalas are officially considered to be vulnerable in the wild according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
It is expected that visitors will be able to see the koalas on ‘walk-through experiences’ from Easter next year.
Pictured: Viscount and Viscountess Weymouth Ceawlin and Emma Thynn with a rescued koala at the Cleland Wildlife Park in Adelaide. Picture by Russell Millard.