When European settlers first saw koalas in Australia, they called them bears, most likely because they look like cute and cuddly teddy bears! Koalas, however, as not bears at all — they are marsupials, like kangaroos and wallabies! These furry tree-lovers are not very common in the United States. You have to go to a zoo to see one, so let’s take a look at the only U.S. zoos with koalas!
A Little Bit About Koalas
Koalas are a vulnerable species, which is why conservation in zoos and wildlife parks is so important. Unfortunately, the Australian wildfires in 2019 and 2020 only made their situation worse. These wildfires caused immense damage to koala habitats, with an estimated 60,000 koalas killed or injured. What’s even more distressing, however, is that this number is expected to rise as climate change continues to bring more frequent and intense droughts, rising temperatures, and reduced access to food and water.
In addition, koalas are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, disease, drought, predation, and vehicle strikes. The U.S. zoos on this list are working to help promote this vulnerable species and ensure that koalas remain healthy and reproductively viable. Working together with a Species Survival Plan (SSP), these zoos coordinate transfers between facilities to help prevent any potential inbreeding or lack of genetic diversity, so an aim to increase koala populations.
Why Don’t More U.S. Zoos Have Koalas?
Only nine zoos in the United States house koalas. Why so few? Well, koalas are unique animals with special needs, so most zoos in the U.S. lack the resources to care for them properly. To house a koala, the zoo must be accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). In addition, the zoo must follow rules set by the Australian government so that the koalas can get the best possible treatment.
Native to Australia, Koalas live in warm and humid climates, where temperatures range from 50 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Most zoos simply do not have the proper conditions and cannot provide the strict climate requirements Koalas need to be healthy and happy. Some zoos will occasionally have koalas in temporary exhibits during the summer, but this is not very common.
In addition, Koalas almost exclusively eat eucalyptus. However, koalas can only eat a few types of the more than 700 varieties of this plant. Koalas are also notoriously picky eaters, so they often have their own specific tastes and preferences. Many zoos have to ship eucalyptus in from warmer areas to supply their koalas, which is expensive.
Due to their rarity, seeing a koala at a zoo in the U.S. is quite a treat! These merry marsupials act as animal ambassadors for their species and remind us of our responsibility toward wildlife preservation. So, where can you see a koala in the U.S.? Let’s take a closer look at the nine amazing U.S. zoos with koalas!
1. San Diego Zoo (California)
There have been koalas at the San Diego Zoo for nearly 100 years! The very first koalas to come to the U.S. were Cuddlepie and Snugglepot. These two joined the San Diego Zoo back in 1925. Today the zoo is the proud home of an entire koala colony! In addition, San Diego Zoo has the most successful koala breeding program outside of Australia.
In fact, this zoo has its own Koala Conservation and Education Loan Program. Zoos all over the world can “borrow” koalas from the San Diego Zoo (after passing habitat inspections and strict guidelines) for their own pop-up exhibit. This allows people all over the country to see and learn about these amazing animals! Through this program, zoos around the world that can’t permanently house koalas have the opportunity to care for them for a limited time.
So, where can you see these amazing marsupials at the San Diego Zoo? Stop by the Queenslander House in their Australian Outback section for all things koala! Here you can watch the koala colony in their exhibit and learn about koala conservation and how they are cared for.
And if you can’t make it to the zoo, you can always enjoy watching these adorable furballs on San Diego Zoo’s live koala cam!
2. Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens (California)
The Los Angeles Zoo is another Californian spot where you can see koalas. Just last year, Maya (female) and Burra (male) were introduced. Hopefully, they will soon be participating in the koala Species Survival Program. It is possible in the near future the two could be proud parents of a new koala joey!
In addition to koalas, the 133 acres of the Los Angeles Zoo are also home to more than 2,200 other animal species, including mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Sixty of the animal species at this zoo are considered endangered. In fact, it is one of the only zoos in the world where you can see extremely rare mountain tapir and a red uakari.
3. San Francisco Zoo & Gardens (California)
If you visit the Koala Crossing at the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens, you might be lucky enough to see some of their adorable koalas. When the weather is warm (between 65- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit), these gorgeous creatures are often seen leisurely snacking on fresh eucalyptus leaves or taking long naps in their outdoor enclosure (koalas sleep 18 to 20 hours a day!). When it’s cold, you can check out the koalas in their warm and cozy indoor exhibit.
In addition to these cuddly koalas, the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens is also home to over 2,000 other animals. This includes exotic and endangered species, as well as some that were rescued. You can observe kudu, giraffes, ostriches, zebras, and more at the Leanne Roberts African Region and the Valentine Family Savanna, or watch Kachina and Kiona, two grizzly bear sisters, romp around at Hearst Grizzly Gulch. If you want to see lemurs while you’re there, check out the Lipman Family Lemur Forest — the largest outdoor lemur habitat in the entire United States!
4. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (Ohio)
Outside of California, you won’t see any other U.S. zoos with koalas in the western half of the United States. However, if you head east, you’ll find several amazing zoos that are home to these beloved marsupials, like the incredible Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio. The zoo’s Australia & the Islands exhibit showcases all kinds of beautiful and amazing animals from down under, including kangaroos, lorikeets, kiwis, binturongs, and of course, koalas. In fact, a new baby koala was born at the zoo just two years ago! The little baby girl was named “Kora” to honor both of her parents, Katy and Thoar.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium covers over 400 acres and is home to more than 7,000 animals! Their exhibits are divided into eight regions of the world. Visit the Heart of Africa, the Polar Frontier, North America, Asia Quest, the Shores & Aquarium, the Congo Expedition Animal Forest, Adventure Cove, and of course, Australia & the Islands. In addition, you can also visit the 9,000 acres of open-range animal habitats at the zoo’s animal conservation center, The Wilds.
5. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (Ohio)
The Australian Adventure at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Cleveland, Ohio, is another amazing U.S. Zoo with koalas. Kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas can be found here roaming around their habitats. The koalas at Gumleaf Hideout are usually munching on eucalyptus leaves or snoozing in the trees of their indoor and outdoor habitats. There is even a recent addition to the koala family. Koala McKenzie gave birth to sweet baby Maya just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Maya is the first koala born at the zoo in almost a decade!
In addition to this adorable koala mother-and-daughter duo, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is also home to over 3,000 other animals. These animals are housed in seven different areas of the zoo: RainForest, Waterfowl Lake, Asian Highlands, Northern Wilderness Trek, Cat & Aquatics Building, The Primate, African Savanna, and of course, Australian Adventure.
6. Riverbanks Zoo & Garden (South Carolina)
The Koala Knockabout exhibit at the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in Columbia, South Carolina, consists of both indoor and outdoor habitats for the zoo’s koalas. The first two male koalas and two female koalas to join the zoo arrived in 2002 and 2003. One year later, the zoo welcomed its very first baby koala, born to a koala named Lottie.
To ensure their koalas have access to fresh, quality eucalyptus, the zoo imports leaves from the South Carolina coast, Arizona, and Florida twice each week. They also have their own grove of eucalyptus for emergencies.
If you want a truly unique and koalafied experience at the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, purchase tickets for Koala Backstage. Not only will you get to learn all about these unique leaf-eating marsupials, but you’ll even have the opportunity to snap a photo with them!
Along with the zoo’s koalas, you can see other Australian animals here, like lorikeets and wallabies. There is also an impressive indoor aquarium full of colorful corals and fishes from down under. The Riverbanks Zoo & Garden is home to over 2,000 other animals, including unique species like North Sulawesi babirusas, lemurs, fishing cats, golden lion tamarins, harbor seals and sea lions, baboons, and siamangs.
7. ZooTampa (Florida)
The final three amazing U.S. zoos with koalas are found in the southeastern state of Florida. At ZooTampa at Lowry Park, a 63-acre zoo in Tampa, you can experience the delight of cute koalas in multiple ways. At the zoo’s Wallaroo Station, you can see koalas along with several different animals from Australia, like Australian singing dogs, yellow-footed rock wallabies, cockatoos, flying foxes, and emus. But if you want to get up close and personal with the koalas, you’ll need to reserve a spot for the Koala Behind the Scenes Tour. These interactive meet-and-greets, however, are only available on Saturdays and Sundays, so be sure to book your spot early.
You can also see the Indian rhinoceros, Komodo dragon, sun bear, binturong, Malayan tapir, babirusa, and Visayan warty pigs in the zoo’s Asian Gardens. In Primate World, you can watch Hamadryas baboons, siamang gibbons, Bornean orangutans, and mandrills roam about. There are many other incredible animals to see and learn about in the Florida Wildlife Center, the Main Aviary, and Safari Africa as well. The zoo also helps with rehabilitating Florida manatees.
8. Zoo Miami (Florida)
If you are in south Florida and all about koalas, check out Zoo Miami. The Australia section of the zoo houses koalas, along with cockatiels, emus, and even Matschie’s tree-kangaroos. In May 2019, a new joey joined the clan, receiving the name “Hope”. Hope was the first koala baby born to the zoo in over 28 years and was beloved by all. Tragically, Hope lived for just two years before he succumbed to gastrointestinal issues (unfortunately, a common problem in koalas). However, his spirit lives on in his mother Rinny, and father Milo, who continue to live at Zoo Miami.
Zoo Miami is the largest zoo in Florida and is home to over 3,000 different animals. In addition to the sweet koala bears that call this zoo home, there are unique animals like Sumatran tigers, Arabian oryxes, sloth bears, Asian small-clawed otters, African painted dogs, Cuban crocodiles, pygmy hippos, okapis, and giant otters. In addition, you can purchase a ticket for a unique animal encounter with kiwis, pygmy hippos, black bears, and greater-one horned rhinos.
9. Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society (Florida)
A male koala named Sydney joined the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society in West Palm Beach in 2021, shortly after the loss of Oz and Katherine, two of the zoo’s beloved Koalas. Sydney now lives at the zoo’s Koala Forest, with three separate indoor bedroom spaces and two outdoor yards (one of which he shares with two friendly kookaburras). As part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Species Survival Plan, the Palm Beach Zoo is hoping to welcome a potential mate for Sydney to help ensure a healthy population of koalas in the future.
There is a lot to explore at the Palm Beach Zoo. In the Harriet W. and George D. Cornell Tropics of the Americas, you can find Chilean flamingos, capybaras, axolotls, and giant anteaters. At The Islands, you can check out tropic-dwelling animals like lemurs, macaws, servals, siamangs, koalas, sloths, and Goeldi’s monkeys. In the Asia exhibit, there are Aldabra giant tortoises, black howler monkeys, Malayan tigers, hornbills, red-crowned cranes, and llamas. One section is even dedicated to the Florida Wetlands, with American alligators, black bears, bald eagles, black swans, Florida panthers, river otters, and nenes.
Summary of 9 Amazing U.S. Zoos With Koalas
|U.S Zoos With Koalas
|San Diego Zoo (California) Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society (Florida)
|Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens (California)
|San Francisco Zoo & Gardens (California)
|Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (Ohio)
|Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (Ohio)
|Riverbanks Zoo & Garden (South Carolina)
|Zoo Miami (Florida)
|Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society (Florida)
The photo featured at the top of this post is © slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com
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