Australian Outback exhibit at San Diego Zoo opens

SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Zoo opened its newest exhibit Friday, the three-acre Conrad Prebys Australian Outback.

The area is home to Queensland koalas, wombats, Parma wallabies and 23 species of Australian birds, including the kookaburra, bowerbird, palm cockatoos and Gouldian finches.

The $7 million exhibit also features a eucalyptus grove, 8- to 15-foot tall totems representing the Australian animals and outdoor perches for each of the zoo's 21 koalas -- including three joeys that range in age from 8 to 10 months old.

Zoo officials said their Queensland koala breeding colony is the largest and most successful breeding program outside of Australia. Zoo staffers, along with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, are studying the koala population, both in the exhibit and in the wild, to help understand the species' ecology, mating behaviors and health.

The data gathered from the study will help further conservation strategies for the eucalyptus-eating marsupials, according to the zoo. San Diego Zoo Global also partnered with the Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation in Australia to provide education about the threats facing native koala populations.

The exhibit also features the Queenslander House, which was built in an architectural style similar to houses in Queensland, Australia, that were first developed in the mid-1800s.

The building was designed to be used as an education classroom, house displays about koala conservation, allow viewing into the koala food prep kitchen and provide information about how the zoo keepers and veterinarians care for the koalas.

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