San Diego Zoo's Australian Outback Exhibit is open - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

San Diego Zoo's Australian Outback Exhibit is open

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego Zoo opened its newest exhibit Friday, the three-acre Conrad Prebys Australian Outback.

Plans to expand the zoo's koala area began in 2009, and the new $7.4 million Australian animal habitat is home to Queensland koalas, wombats, Parma wallabies and 23 species of Australian birds, including the kookaburra, bowerbird, palm cockatoos and Gouldian finches in 4,000 square feet of aviaries, according to zoo officials.

The exhibit also features a eucalyptus grove, 8- to 15-foot-tall Aborigine-inspired totems representing the Australian animals and outdoor perches for each of the zoo's 21 koalas -- including three joeys that range in age from 8 to 10 months old. The adult koalas are up to 17 years old.

The male koalas have 10 individual enclosures and there are two larger ones for the females and their joeys, according to zoo officials. The mostly sedentary animals are offered branches from several eucalyptus species and eat up to 1 1/2 pounds of leaves each day.

The koalas can also be viewed online through the zoo's "Koala Cam." The live broadcast is focused on the female koalas, some with their joeys, and can be accessed at sandiegozoo.org/koalafornia.

Zoo officials said their Queensland koala breeding colony is the largest and most successful breeding program outside of Australia. Zoo staffers, along with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, are studying the koala population, both in the exhibit and in the wild, to help understand the species' ecology, mating behaviors and health.

The data gathered from the study will help further conservation strategies for the eucalyptus-eating marsupials, according to the zoo. San Diego Zoo Global also partnered with the Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation in Australia to provide education about the threats facing native koala populations, such as habitat fragmentation.

The exhibit also features the Queenslander House, which was built in an architectural style similar to houses in Queensland, Australia, that were first developed in the mid-1800s.

The building was designed to be used as an education classroom, house displays about koala conservation, allow viewing into the koala food preparation kitchen and provide information about how the zoo keepers and veterinarians care for the koalas.

A smoke ceremony conducted by the Yugambeh-language people of the Gold Coast in Australia preceded the exhibit's opening, zoo officials said.

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