Koalas on loan to Singapore Zoo may become permanent residents here

Junior Animal Management Officer Rachel Yeo bringing Idalia down for feeding at the Singapore Zoo. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Junior Animal Management Officer Rachel Yeo bringing Idalia down for feeding at the Singapore Zoo. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Koalas Paddle and Idalia (right). -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Koalas Paddle and Idalia (right). -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
A koala at the Singapore Zoo. Visitors to the Singapore Zoo can now say "hi" to its latest residents from Down Under: four koalas named Paddle, Chan, Pellita and Idalia. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN  
A koala at the Singapore Zoo. Visitors to the Singapore Zoo can now say "hi" to its latest residents from Down Under: four koalas named Paddle, Chan, Pellita and Idalia. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN  
A koala at the Singapore Zoo. Visitors to the Singapore Zoo can now say "hi" to its latest residents from Down Under: four koalas named Paddle, Chan, Pellita and Idalia. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN  
A koala at the Singapore Zoo. Visitors to the Singapore Zoo can now say "hi" to its latest residents from Down Under: four koalas named Paddle, Chan, Pellita and Idalia. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN  
Koalas at the Singapore Zoo. Visitors to the Singapore Zoo can now say "hi" to its latest residents from Down Under: four koalas named Paddle, Chan, Pellita and Idalia. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN 
Koalas at the Singapore Zoo. Visitors to the Singapore Zoo can now say "hi" to its latest residents from Down Under: four koalas named Paddle, Chan, Pellita and Idalia. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN 
From left: Australian High Commissioner Philip Green, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, Madam Ho Ching, and Minister for Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam, getting up close with the koalas in their enclosure on May 20, 2015. -- ST PHOT
From left: Australian High Commissioner Philip Green, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, Madam Ho Ching, and Minister for Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam, getting up close with the koalas in their enclosure on May 20, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN 

SINGAPORE - Visitors to the Singapore Zoo can now say "hi" to its latest residents from Down Under: Four koalas named Paddle, Chan, Pellita and Idalia.

Koalamania, a 210 sq m koala enclosure at the zoo's Australian Outback section, opened to the public at noon on Wednesday.

It was also announced that the marsupials, on loan from Australia, may become permanent gifts to Singapore.

The loan of the furry quartet "underscores very strong bonds" between the two countries, which mark 50 years of diplomatic relations this year, said Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam, who was speaking at the koalas' housewarming party in the morning.

Mr Shanmugam noted that 50,000 Singaporeans currently work and study in Australia, while 20,000 Australians reside here.

The four female koalas, which hail from the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, may be given local Singaporean names, said Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Addressing Mr Shanmugam, Ms Bishop added: "We want this to be a permanent gift, and it just means there's a little bit of work that needs to be done on Singapore's side, and that is to find hectares of land where you can grow the eucalypt. I don't think the koalas are going to change their diet anytime soon."

Eucalyptus leaves, the only food koalas eat, are flown in via Australian airline Qantas twice a week.

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, chief life sciences officer at Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which runs the zoo, estimated that five hectares of land is needed to grow enough leaves to feed four koalas, with each eating about 500g daily.

"Eucalyptus grows very well in tropical climates. The limited part of it is finding the amount of land that is required," he said.

The koalas arrived on April 13 and were quarantined for a month. Dr Cheng said they have adapted well to their climate-controlled enclosure. The temperature is kept at between 22 and 24 deg C, and humidity at 50 to 60 per cent.

Ms Claire Chiang, chairman of WRS, said: "(The koalas') stay at the Singapore Zoo presents an excellent opportunity for visitors to have a peek at these fascinating animals that stand among the biggest icons of endemic Australian wildlife."

Also present at the exhibit's opening on Wednesday was Madam Ho Ching, wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The best time to visit the koalas, which sleep for 18 to 22 hours a day, is during their feeding times at 9.30am and 4pm daily.

Corporate service office Kris Anna, 50, took leave from work on Wednesday to be one of the first to visit the koalas. She was there with her 23-year-old son.

"I hope to get to know more about them, such as what they are like as babies and their mating rituals," she said. "I've only seen them on documentaries before."