WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - There are only 10 zoos in the United States with koala breeding programs and one of them is West Columbia’s very own Riverbanks Zoo.
They’re part of a critical mission to preserve the population of koalas worldwide through the Species Survival Plan and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. After Riverbanks’ most prolific breeder, Lottie, passed away early this year – the viability of a new match for one of Lottie’s joeys, Charlotte, came into focus.
But, it was already in the works. And we can assure you, baby fever is palpable among keepers and visitors alike near the Koala Exhibit.
In March 2020, we met Toledo Zookeeper Adam Haynes as he dropped off then six-year-old Coedie at Riverbanks Zoo. It was an arranged marriage, if you will, for then two-year-old Charlotte. Now, Charlotte is three-and-a-half and Coedie is seven. Keepers said they are both sexually mature and now it’s just a waiting game.
“When it’s time to do some of the introductions we monitor the interactions closely,” said John Davis, Riverbanks’ Director of Animal Care. “And always we are there to help support the animals make choices of whether they want to be together or not.”
The breeding program is especially important in the wake of the bush fires in Australia in 2020, which severely threatened the eucalyptus supply for koalas in the wild and displaced animals.
“Without them in the zoos then there is no helping them in the wild if they go extinct,” said Senior Cat/Bear Keeper, Katherine Connell.
So, how does it work? Well, without diving into the birds and the bees we can tell you this.
“Usually the male initiates it and the female will respond,” said Cat/Bear keeper, Christina Dedigeo.
A low bellowing call, according to Dedigeo. That’s Coedie’s first move. It’s then followed by a response from Charlotte. Apparently, Coedie has been calling and now they’re waiting on Charlotte, who’s playing a little “hard to get.” Even though she’s being subtle, keepers are optimistic.
“Hoping in a year or so we will have a Joey but it’s really on their timeline,” said Dedigeo.