‘Imogen’ has always held a special place in the hearts of the Symbio family, and now the beloved koala has started a family of her own after welcoming a new joey at the wildlife park.
Imogen was famously hand-raised by the park’s Kylie and Matt Radnidge after being orphaned when she was young and has won over fans worldwide.
Symbio koala keeper Elizabeth Florance said the whole team had been hoping for this next milestone.
“Honestly, we’ve been waiting a long time for Imi to have a baby and when we finally got the go-ahead we were very, very excited.
“I had the video of the pairing and I ran straight to Kylie and I said, ‘Look, your baby is going to have a baby’.”
But they had to wait a little longer to see if the pairing had worked.
“Because we know what her normal behaviour is like without a baby, we tend to know pretty quickly if there is a sign of a joey,” Elizabeth said. “There’s so many different signs that can help us piece together that puzzle but the one thing we noticed with Imogen was a little bit of ear flickering.
“By the three-month mark we started to see a cute little baby bulge forming.”
Although they knew the baby was with her, it was still many months before he made his first appearance.
“It doesn’t matter how many baby koalas you see they always take your breath away the first time you see them,” Elizabeth said.
Now at eight months old he’s finally emerged and spends his time either cuddled up to his mum or on her back.
“She’s been doing great with her baby and he’s been doing really well; he’s at the milestones that he should be, the weight that he should be, he’s starting to eat leaves, still drinking lots of milk but I don’t think he’ll be squeezing back into that pouch for much longer.
“Looks like Mum’s pretty much evicted him out of there because that’s a big baby.”
And he’s only going to get bigger.
Elizabeth said he will gain up to 200 grams each week and hit the two-kilogram mark in a matter of months.
“We’ll probably see him back riding a lot more and from the 10-month mark we will usually see them sitting further apart from each other.”
He’ll also start spending time in the other enclosures with his aunt and siblings.
“By the time they’re about 11 months in the wild, Mum would have already disappeared to go and have another baby so he doesn’t need Mum after that so we want to have that transition so it’s easy for Mum to have a little bit of down time before she thinks of having another baby.”
While in the wild koalas would have another joey straight away, Elizabeth said they wouldn’t rush Imogen and they’d wait until she lets them know she’s ready.
Symbio has dedicated a lot of effort into their koala breeding program to best try to protect the species, particularly following the horrific bushfires of a few years ago.
Their current breeding male, who has fathered more than a dozen joeys, will soon be moved to another zoo to make sure the koalas are not too genetically similar.
“It’s really important that we have robust individuals within the breeding program because essentially we could be housing the future insurance population for koalas,” Elizabeth said. “As we’re aware, they’re an endangered species in the wild, they’re not doing so well so we need to make sure that we’re breeding smart.”
But as well as keeping the population going, there is also the challenge of making sure they are adequately fed.
“It is really important that we have enough food to feed our population of koalas as well; over the next few years we’ve started up a partnership with BlueScope Steel and we’re going to be planting over 15,000 trees.
“That’s going to be able to go leaps and bounds to keep feeding these guys because just to feed Imogen in a year we need 1000 eucalyptus trees.”