The only koala living in Israel died of old age on Wednesday morning at Gan Garoo, an Australian petting zoo at Kibbutz Nir David in the north of the country.
Milo the koala was born in February 2004 at the Melbourne Zoo in Australia and was brought to Israel at the age of two. He belonged to the Victorian koala subspecies and was named after the chocolate beverage popular in his homeland.
In his prime, Milo weighed about 14 kilograms and was as tall as a small poodle. In recent weeks he had shown signs of old age, started losing weight and was taken for ultrasound and CT tests. At a certain point he started drinking water, which is unusual for koalas, who obtain their liquids from eucalyptus leaves.
His handlers assumed he was drinking water due to digestion problems and tried to give him food supplements.
“The koala population has been dwindling in recent years,” said Gan Garoo manager Nadav Kfir. “Today there are 300 or 400 koalas on trees in Australia.”
Climate change has harmed the protected species by reducing its habitat areas, and it has been affected by forest fires and droughts, he said. “In addition, feral cats, which are not an Australian animal, became a major invasive species in Australia. They multiplied disproportionately and now pose a threat to the koalas, whether by eating baby koalas or by spreading diseases.”
Uri Shanas of Haifa University’s Biology and Environment Department said that as the koalas’ living areas shrink, so does their number. “Reproduction with relatives, the outbreak of diseases and radical weather changes like a heat wave or dryness can annihilate an entire group,” he said. “So if the area is isolated they cannot recover.”
Gan Garoo was one of four zoos outside of Australia which were home to Victorian koalas. It is not known when, if ever, another koala will come to Israel.
“We’ve been making efforts to bring more koalas for more than six years, because absurdly, there are places were they are too crowded and the Australians are culling them,” Kfir said. “Instead of culling, let them put two on a plane to Israel. But the Australian law says you don’t take them out of nature to put them into a zoo. That encourages trade and smuggling and harming natural habitats, not only koalas.”
In September 2016, about 18 months before Milo’s death, another koala named Mandy died at the age of 18. She was one of the oldest koalas in the world (they usually live to about 12 years in the wild).
Since then Milo had been on his own, but Kfir said he wasn’t lonely because koalas are loners. After living in their mother’s pouch for six months after birth and then spending four months on her back, young koalas have no further contact with her.