It was a seven degree day, warm for Budapest in late December. On holidays, a special visit was arranged for me to go behind the scenes at Budapest Zoo to meet two Queensland koalas.
As I live in Redlands, once billed as the koala capital of the world, it was going to be interesting to see what these creatures looked like and how they were handing a very un-wild existence.
The two male koalas moved into their residence early in 2015 to a specially designed and fitted out enclosure within the Budapest zoo complex.The Zoo is not far away from Heroes Square and the Art Gallery centre for those that have visited this city on the Danube.
While billed as Queensland koalas they are not. This is to distinguish them from their southern Australian counterparts. In actual fact neither of these male koalas has lived anywhere else but in the northern hemisphere.
The bigger boy Nu-Nuru-Bin , whose name in Aboriginal may check out as something like “south wind”, was born on 15 June 2012 at the Mechelen Plankendeal Wild Animal Park in Belgium. His counterpart , Vobara, a made up name from other words, was born in Germany at the Duisburg Zoo on 29 July 2012.
What a pampered existence these two koalas have! We saw them at their weigh in and feeding time at one o’clock in their zoo home. Of course we had to start with a disinfectant foot wash for boots before entering their enclosure and a hand wash for good measure as there was promise of a fur stroke when Nu-Nuru- Bin and Vobara moved from their weigh in back to their “feeding trees” in their separate enclosures. We could follow this from the service corridors at the back of their building, not available to the public viewing.
A trolley held the day’s lunch, five varieties of eucalypts, imported twice weekly from south western England and flown via Germany to Budapest to be refrigerated until used. This was given a final hose down before their meal and Kati their keeper put the five bundles of leaves into water in like vase- like containers spaced around their ‘trees”. Their choice of leaf is monitored to establish their favourite and afterwards the uneaten leaves are placed in the public viewing area to share the eucalyptus smell.
The relationship between keepers and koalas was obvious. These are intelligent loving animals. But who wouldn’t be that way when Kati brushed them gently, either for their comfort or for the benefit of the eager viewers. She carried them from weighing room to tree and they seemed to love it. Their fur was light grey, thick, but not long. Each had the usual male chest marking.
Yes, their male vocalising had been heard in their time at Budapest Zoo and while they were aware of each other in their adjoining residences this proved quite stressful when Nu-Nuru-Bin had actually been able to see Vobarn through a glass section of the partition. Although changed to avoid such sighting, I kept thinking that koalas are not supposed to be able to see very well.
Plump and cuddly looking they certainly were, intelligent and knowing. The Zoo is very proud of its success. To achieve and maintain these healthy male koalas is a step on the way to achieving a koala breeding status for the Zoo. This of course will depend on the strict protocols followed by the zoos especially to prevent in-breeding.
I shed a tear to see the care lavished on these animals: back home our wild koalas are being squeezed out of their natural homes and probably out of their very existence.