Koalas debut next week at Brookfield Zoo Chicago

A pair of cute, fuzzy koalas are ready to make history at Brookfield Zoo Chicago next week.

Brumby and Willum, the 2-year-old male koalas who recently arrived at the zoo from Australia, will make their debut Tuesday — the first koalas to inhabit Brookfield Zoo Chicago in the zoo’s 90-year history.

Their exhibit at the zoo’s Hamill Family Play Zoo will open to the public at 2 p.m.

“Tuesday is the grand opening, so obviously that’s going to be — we’re hoping — a busy day, but I would think that the days after that would be just as equally enjoyable for our guests to come and view the koalas,” said Mark Wanner, associate vice president of animal care and conservation at Brookfield Zoo Chicago.

The koalas’ habitat has indoor and outdoor viewing areas, allowing visitors the ability “to see them on any given day,” he said.

Brumby and Willum were brought to the zoo on a two-year loan from the Australian government. Initially expected around Memorial Day weekend, their first appearance was pushed back a couple of weeks due to the zoo awaiting final approval from the Australian government.

The new arrivals to the zoo are joining other marsupials and monotremes that are native to Australia, such as the southern hairy-nosed wombat, short-beaked echidna, western gray kangaroo and Bennett’s wallaby.

“We’ve always had an interest in bringing koalas, but I think that we just decided maybe this was the right time with Brookfield Zoo and all the change going on that koalas can be that flagship Australian species to launch us into that new zoo,” Wanner said.

Brookfield Zoo Chicago announced several changes in March, including its new name (adding “Chicago”), plans for a tropical exhibit, and a renewed emphasis on conservation.

The zoo hopes the koalas’ stay will underscore the challenges they face in Australia, while also educating guests on a “deeper understanding of wildlife from across the globe.”

Koalas, native to eastern Australia, are listed as an endangered species by the Australian government. An estimated 300,000 of them are living in the world. Nearly 6,400 koalas were estimated to have died from wildfires in 2019 and 2020, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Wanner said habitat destruction is one of the largest threats to koalas in Australia.

“I think that overall, it kind of reminds everybody that the natural world is not something that we can continue to put pressure on and think everything’s going to be OK,” Wanner said.

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